The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
An Overview
National Policy on Promoting International Exchange in the Performing Arts
Promotion of International Cultural Exchange and the Role of The Japan Foundation

In recent years, both the Agency for Cultural Affairs and The Japan Foundation have been actively involved in international exchange, but it is The Japan Foundation that has assumed the leading role for many years. Ever since it was founded in 1972, it has taken on an exceptionally wide variety of international cultural exchange projects. The foundation has invited artists to Japan and sent Japanese artists overseas; promoted Japanese studies overseas; encouraged wider education of the Japanese language; sponsored performances, exhibitions, and international conferences; presented Japanese culture abroad; and boosted exchange with other Asian countries.

The foundation’s budget for FY2007 was 16.2 billion yen, 2.2 billion yen of which was earmarked for the promotion of cultural exchange. This covers six types of arts exchange programs with artists sent abroad and invited to Japan, international cooperation in cultural and artistic activities, community and youth exchanges, and exchanges in the arts and performing arts. Performing arts exchanges include full and partial funding of performances of Japanese companies abroad, and invitations for overseas artists to perform in Japan, international stage coproductions (both in Japan and overseas), sending performance companies and experts to international arts festivals, and collecting, sorting, and communicating information useful for international exchange in the performing arts.

Viewed over several years, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has a more generous budget for international exchange than The Japan Foundation, but even more important than the funding it provides is its establishment of overseas bases known as Japan Cultural Institutes or Japan Cultural Centers, currently located in 19 cities in 18 countries. These centers function as two-way gateways to artistic and cultural exchange between Japan and the rest of the world. In over 30 years of activity, The Japan Foundation has gained much that could not be obtained with mere financial support, including the expertise and networks cultivated at these overseas offices, providing information and opportunities for dialogue. They have truly been a valuable resource for Japan’s international exchange efforts.

The Japan Foundation became an independent organization in October 2003, undergoing a thorough institutional reorganization and operations restructuring. Now the expectations on them for more targeted actions are higher than ever.

National Policy on Public Organizations and Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities Initiative

Local public organizations have played an important role in national policy for the regions. The peak, however, for arts and culture budgets in municipalities was reached in 1993 with a total of 955.5 billion yen, a figure that has been falling ever since. The total for 2007 was 398 billion yen. The background to this situation includes worsening finances and the mergers of towns and cities. Another factor is that localities have finished building the facilities they need and less construction work is going on.

During the 1990s there was a boom in theater and concert hall construction, with nearly 1,000 new facilities built during that decade—a rate of 100 per year. As of March 2006, there were 3,300 public theaters and halls (according to a study by Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities). Very few of these facilities, however, are actively involved in organizing their own productions and performances. One of the reasons for this is that they have only limited budgets for doing so. Another reason is that few facilities have specialized or experienced arts administrators in their management. With the recent introduction of the Designated Manager System, cultural facilities are increasingly required to operate more efficiently and continue cutting costs. With a very few exceptions, public theaters and halls are working under ruthless conditions.

In 1994, regional public organizations established the Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities initiative with the goal of boosting creativity locally thorough arts and culture enterprises. The foundation provides financial and other support and training programs in order to revitalize the cultural management of local governments.

The foundation’s budget for FY2007 was 2.7 billion yen, and about 45% of that—1.2 billion yen—was used to finance the promotion of creative and cultural arts activities by regional public organizations. It also established training programs for employees of local governments and arts centers. Since its foundation, more than 1,800 people have participated in the short-term intensive training program known as Stage Lab. This program has produced active, capable staff members for theaters and public halls all over Japan.

Other programs include networks allowing several public halls to collaborate on coproductions, performances by regional theater companies at the Tokyo International Arts Festival, outreach programs for contemporary dance and classical music, and other wide-ranging activities contributing to the revitalization of regional cultural facilities. Despite its small budget, the Foundation has provided an important boost to regional cultural facilities throughout Japan in line with the national policy.

Looking at the budget alone, Japan’s national policy for culture appears to be on a downturn. There is, however, more and more interest in international exchange in the performing arts. When arts organizations abroad wish to receive support from the Japanese government or public institutions for promoting exchange with Japan, the principal contact point is The Japan Foundation (overseas office). The foundation can link them to potential counterparts in Japan, while subsidies are available from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities, and others. Understanding this basic structure is an important first step to making good use of that framework. Further effective measures will include developing partnerships with regional art NPOs in order to collect data and create systems to bring projects to fruition, as well as obtaining funding from private corporations and regional public organizations. This we feel is the key to future active exchange between Japan and other countries.
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