The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Public Theaters and Concert Halls
Public Theaters and Concert Halls
Current Situation and Trends

According to a survey by Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities, of the roughly 3,300 public theaters and halls in Japan, 88% are relatively small municipal halls. For the large, prefectural facilities, foundations specializing in the arts are established to operate the venues, although few of them actually hire specialists in performing arts other than technical staff. Smaller municipalities, on the other hand, generally operate venues themselves.

The year 2007 saw many changes in artistic directors: Suzuki Tadashi, the artistic director of the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center and the forerunner in this system, was succeeded by Miyagi Satoshi; Kuriyama Tamiya of the drama division of the New National Theatre, Tokyo, by Uyama Hitoshi; Hirata Oriza of the Fujimi Culture Hall, Kirari Fujimi by Ikuta Yorozu; and Wakasugi Hiroshi of Biwako Hall by Numajiri RyÛsuke. Other organizations that have artistic directors are, namely Sainokuni Saitama Arts Theater (Ninagawa Yukio), Setagaya Public Theatre (Nomura Mansai), Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (Kushida Kazuyoshi), Hyogo Performing Arts Center (Sado Yutaka), and Niigata City Performing Arts Center (Kanamori Jô in the dance division). Also, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space has just created a stir with the appointment of Noda Hideki as its first artistic director. The system is, however, not necessarily well established, and the roles and power of an artistic director vary between organizations. Some facilities have appointed producers from the private sector and utilized their connections with artists to establish active creative programs, such as the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center and Setagaya Public Theatre. A few organizations have an art-company-in-residence, including SPAC at Shizuoka Performing Arts Center, the contemporary dance company Noism at Niigata City Performing Arts Center, and Piccolo Theater Company at the Piccolo Theater, Hyôgo.

Some music halls have agreed franchises with existing orchestras, such as Sumida Triphony Hall and the New Japan Philharmonic; Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall and Tokyo Symphony Orchestra; and Ishikawa Ongakudô and Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa. Others, such as the Mito Chamber Orchestra at Art Tower Mito and the vocal ensemble at Biwako Hall entered into annual contracts with artists to conduct resident artist programs. Opened in 2005, the Hyôgo Performing Arts Center is attracting nationwide attention for founding an academy orchestra of musicians aged 35 and under and active locally as an orchestra. None of these organizations are well established, however, and the question of what operating style should be adopted for public cultural facilities in Japan is still being explored.

Among the latest developments is the introduction of the Designated Manager System. In April 2003, the Local Government Law was revised to relax regulations governing organizations that run public facilities such as cultural centers. Now any designated operators – not only public benefit corporations but also NPOs and private companies – approved by the local assembly can manage public facilities. In some cases a public cultural facility has advertised for candidates and a private company has won the position of designated operator. According to the latest survey conducted in 2007 by Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities, there are a total of 4,265 public cultural facilities (concert halls, theaters, museums, etc.) in the country, 65.8% of which are run directly by the local governments, and 34.2% are run by designated operators. Nearly 80% of these designated operators are incorporated foundations, and almost 20% are NPOs and joint-stock companies who would never have been given such an opportunity in the past.

While there are expectations for these private players to bring in new ways of operation, many of them are from different fields of business, such as building management, advertising, and temporary staffing, and there is much concern about how they will fulfill their mission as arts and culture organizations at the heart of community arts and cultural activities. Although many facilities chose to be operated by foundations for arts and cultural promotion established by local governments, most are said to be in the market for new operators. There may be a whole new environment for arts and culture in Japan in three to five years when it is time for these venues to renew their contracts.

Following the enactment of the NPO Law in 1998, there now are many arts NPOs and some of which are the designated operators of public cultural facilities, such as Arts Network Japan which runs Tokyo International Arts Festival. Depending on where these arts NPOs are headed, the Designated Manager System might lead to the creation of an unprecedented environment for arts and culture. In FY 2008, however, it will become easier to establish a foundation or association under drastic reforms planned to public benefit corporations other than NPOs (with a five-year transitional period). Public benefit foundations and associations with preferential tax treatment will also require certification. There is no knowing how the existing cultural promotion foundations will be evaluated or how the private companies running public cultural facilities will be treated in five years’ time.

Local cultural policy has been drastically affected by the major program to merge municipalities with populations under 10,000, and public theaters and halls have been largely reorganized. Culture and theaters in Japan are clearly entering a new era.
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