|The U.S. has an area 25 times larger than Japan. So the concept of region must be very different from that in Japan. In the case of Arts Midwest, it covers the nine states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Could you give us in a little more detail what is an RAO like and how it functions?
The RAOs (*2) are nonprofit organizations administering a system that was established about 30 years ago under the guidance of the NEA. As you know, the U.S. has a large area consisting of 50 federated states. For that reason, the national government is not able to provide all the states with detailed governance and services. That is why the NEA established the RAOs to cover a certain number of states each to provide a more effective system of support.
I think that this system also has a merit of check and balance between the RAOs and the states. The best known among these RAOs outside of the U.S. are Arts Midwest and the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), which is based in Boston, and covers the northeastern region known as New England.
How are the six regions designated?
Arts Midwest has a jurisdiction of nine states, but the region traditionally referred to as the U.S. Midwest is not necessarily limited to these nine states. The basic regional divisions traditionally have geographic and cultural backgrounds, I believe, but the division of the states into the six RAO regions was made from the standpoint of the NEA.
The different RAOs also have different orientations, and of the six, the ones that make special efforts toward supporting the arts and culture more directly beyond the region are Arts Midwest and NEFA, in particular. Despite being a regional organization, NEFA runs a funding program to support the creation and tours of dance on a nationwide basis. This is the National Dance Project (NDP), which receives funding from the NEA and such leading foundations as the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. What makes NDP unique is that it closely operates with about a dozen designated presenters around the country, known as hub sites, and the respective dance directors gather twice a year for a national conference to select which programs to give support to.
I believe that about 300 requests are submitted for support each time and these are narrowed down to about 30 at the written application level and then the selection panel reviews video presentations of these at the national conference over a two-day period. Prior to this stage, however, the hub site presenters divide up the 30 applicants among themselves and go out to do careful studies of them, including interviews with the choreographers so that they can give presentations on behalf of the artists during the selection session. They make cases for the artists by saying things like, “When I interviewed her/him I was convinced that the new work will be great. I will certainly give a serious consideration in presenting the new work at our theater if they receive the funding.” This way, the newly created work will procure a good possibility of presentations and tours even prior to its existence. It is a very creative funding program itself that is unprecedented in the rest of the country.
The RAO of the different regions all have different and unique names. Are their organizations and sources of funding also different?
Yes. The things they all have in common are that they all have a strong association with the NEA, some form of membership and funding program for its member states, and that they work in cooperation with the states' arts agencies.
For example, when Arts Midwest invited the wadaiko (Japanese traditional drum) performer Eitetsu Hayashi to the state of Ohio for a long-term residency project through CTN, the program was sponsored and managed in a close tie-up between Arts Midwest and the Ohio Arts Council (OAC). The residency project aimed to bring the artist’s creativity and positive stimulation to regional communities that have various social problems including drug use and teenage single mothers. But neither we nor the OAC have information about what local facilities and organizations will be the best hosts for the residency activities, so OAC made contact with the city arts councils who have the best knowledge of their communities to find the right entities (schools and other nonprofit organizations) for the programs.
So the network sounds like a functioning system in this sense?
Yes. The United States has a longer history of an NPO (non-profit organizations) sector in the arts, so functional networks have been developed not only between the smaller community NPOs and the city or state governments but also between the artists and presenters and among the presenters themselves. In particular, since the presenters have established themselves as professionals, they not only have good eyes for the artists but also participate in international festivals to gain the sense of international arts scenes, have good connections and knowledge of their local communities and audiences, and actively communicate with municipal and/or state government for funding, which makes them a crucial part of the networks in the arts. Also, presenters and artist often interact and communicate with city/state arts councils and RAOs, serving as selection panel members or advisors for various policy makings. Constant communications support various networks to function. National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) brings representatives of all the state arts agencies together for annual conferences, and there is also a yearly conference for all six of the RAOs to meet together.
How about the intentions for inter-regional exchange in the U.S. with this RAO system?
The original reason for creating the RAO system was what Mr. Fraher calls “interstate trafficking.” This means crossing state borders. In the U.S., crossing a state border can make thing as different as going into a different country, and that is why a system like the RAOs was necessary to promote interstate exchange originally. This was also effective in expanding markets for artists, creating more tours and work for them. But now, 30 years after the RAO system was established, I think that the contents of their activities are changing, as some of them are actively involved in international exchange programs.
One thing I am particularly conscious of is the fact that, as a nation of immigrants, the U.S. has groups of people with diverse cultural backgrounds living within its borders. Understanding its diversity has been a critical issue in America, and while there are places like New York and California where you encounter that diversity on a daily basis, there are also predominantly white communities in larger parts of the states under our jurisdiction. In the U.S., we are destined to the interstate trafficking in order to understand the country’s diversity as well.