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Yoko Shioya
Profile
Yoko Shioya
Born in Tokyo in 1960, Yoko Shioya is a graduate of Music Dept. of the National University of Fine Arts and Music, Tokyo, majored in musicology. After moving to the United States in 1988, she became active as a contributing writer in the fields of culture and the arts for publications including the major Japanese newspapers such as Asahi Newspaper, the Sankei Newspaper and the weekly journal AERA. She also conducted numerous researchs on arts support systems in the U.S. for various Japanese organizations, corporations and regional government agencies and has continued to pose questions for Japanese society about the state of support for the arts through ongoing series of symposiums and reports to academic journals. Since 1997, Ms. Shioya joined Performing Arts department of Japan Society in N.Y. and succeeded the department’s head since 2003. In 2006 she was appointed as Artistic Director to lead Performing Arts and Film departments of the Society. Among her published books are New York: A City Coexisting with Artists (Maruzen Library, 1998) and Why Do Corporations Involve in Corporate Philanthropy?” (Co-authored, Kigyo Mecenat Kyogikai, 2001).
Japan Society
Japan Society’s facade during its ongoing 2007-2008 centennial celebration.
© Cynthia Sternau
Arts Organization of the Month
Presenter Interview
2007.10.13
New developments in the Japan Society, a promoter of exchange between Japan and the U.S. for 100 years 
 
The Japan Society is a private nonprofit organization founded in 1907 by a group of New York's most influential business people out of a need for mutual understanding between the U.S. and Japan after Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War. Since then, the Society has been dedicated to promote mutual understanding and exchange between Japan and the U.S. With the establishment of its Performing Arts department in 1953, the Society has served as an important presenter of the Japanese performing arts for over 50 years. This year the Japan Society celebrates its 100th anniversary with a rich variety of performing arts programs. In this interview we spoke with the Japan Society’s Artistic Director, Ms. Yoko Shioya, about the new direction and challenges in performing arts exchange between Japan and the U.S.
(Interviewer: Eiko Tsuboike)


In Japan, you are known as a researcher in the field of arts and culture programs. You are a frequent contributor of articles on the American performing arts scene to Japanese newspapers and magazines, and you have played an active role in introducing America's nonprofit arts industry. You have also been a frequent provider of information about performing arts in the U.S. for this website, which we are very grateful for. Now we would like to hear about your role as the Japan Society’s Artistic Director. First of all, what do you do as Artistic Director?
I assumed the position of Director of Performing Arts in 2003, and subsequently became Artistic Director of the Japan Society in 2006. Prior to that, there was no such position at The Society. Its administrative responsibility is equivalent to the vice president’s position, however, since the title vice president sounds too bureaucratic and it doesn’t relay my proper function as a director of programming, “Artistic Director” was applied to me. Currently 60 staff members work at the Japan Society, and five work in the Performing Arts department. The Performing Arts' program budget was about $1.1 million (about 13,000,000 yen) last year and this fiscal year. Since two halves of these fiscal years (06-07 and 07-08) make up our 100th anniversary season, the budgets in both years are a little larger than usual.
As Artistic Director, my main responsibility is programming for Performing Arts. In addition I manage the Film Program and also handle programming for a part of the Lecture Program. Since film is not my specialty, I don’t handle the actual curation for Film, but I am responsible for setting its direction to distinguish Japan Society's Film program from other film venues. For example, just this past summer we started a large-scale, non-curatorial film festival focusing entirely on new films made in Japan. We did this to recognize the recent and remarkable surge in the Japanese film-making in the market where, until recently, foreign films dominated. To represent this renaissance, I thought that "curating a program of past/classic films" was not enough to convey the big picture of what is happening in the Japanese film industry. We also started to focus on digging up films which have not been seen outside of Japan simply because they have no English subtitles. To introduce these kinds of films, we create translations, make subtitles onto a computer file, and project them simultaneously on the movie screen. Such procedures require excellent bilingual ability in staff members, and I think that only Japan Society is positioned to manage this service. These are just a few examples of the initiatives I have taken. However, since film is not my area of expertise, actual film selection is handled by my film staff.

I want to ask you later in more detail about the Society’s Performing Arts department and what it does, but before I do that, I’d like to ask how you as a Japanese came to work at Japan Society. What did you study in college?
I had a vague notion that I wanted to study dance, so I went to the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. However, at that time in the early 1980s there were no teachers on dance as an academic subject. There weren’t even any materials available – books or video tapes – that I could study from. So, I studied under the late professor Fumio Koizumi, who was a pioneer in Japan's ethnomusicology. Still, I was able to do research and study modern dance through the period between Isadora Duncan and Judson Church movement.
Speaking of how I came to this job at the Japan Society, it may be related to the fact that since I was a high school student, I had been intrigued with Serge Diaghilev, impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes. I was very interested in how to bring together cutting-edge artists from various genres such as music, dance and art; and how to put them together to collaborate to create new work. I had no clue: would he just pick up a phone and call Cocteau? How would he talk to Stravinsky to commission him to write a new music? How would he start the conversation? Was there any standard commissioning fee? How would the contract be made? What would be good time to make event posters, etc. I was very curious about those things.
Now I can see all these are issues fall under "arts management." But in those days when I was a college student, there was no such word in Japan – there wasn’t even the concept of "arts management." Moreover, in those days, the Japanese performing arts industry did not seem to have clear-cut business customs nor any answers I was looking for. So, I thought I should put myself in a different industry where I could get decent business experience. I got a job at Hamano Institute Inc., planning, consulting, and producing for a company in the design and architecture field. To produce a commercial building or facilities, a joint effort was required involving architects, interior designers, graphic designers – all "creative" people – and developers, who all worked under common sense of business. Although the design industry was not performing arts, I expected I would be able to gain some practical knowledge in that job.
Now at Japan Society I write contracts with artists, or make proposals to attract funders and corporate constituents for fundraising. I have adopted a lot of skill and knowledge that I practiced in the design industry. To make people commit to something that is not yet visible or tangible – like design work – you have to somehow excite people with your ideas. The skills, language and social rules required in this process is common even in the arts field.

Why did you go to the U.S.?
In short, it was because my husband at the time was a contemporary visual artist and he had a dual citizenship of the U.S and Japan. We moved to the States in 1988 at a time when U.S. seemed better than Japan for any kind of artistic activities. Also I gradually got fed up with dealing in commercial industry, which always chased frivolous trends and accelerated consumption. My direction was always to put myself in a place where I can pursue art for art’s sake, or "beauty" – therefore a job in the design field no longer stimulated my intellectual curiosity. Having said that, though, of course I had to make a living in New York – so I stayed in the design business for a while, receiving work from Japan as a coordinator in the architectural design to liaison between the U.S. and Japan. At the same time, I started to write articles for major Japanese magazines to introduce America's art support systems, and I received commissions from Japan to do research on this subject. Gradually, I established myself as a researcher and arts writer. I must say that it wasn’t too easy to make a living through this job, though. (laughs).

When did you begin working at the Japan Society?
In 1997. A director at Asian Cultural Council (ACC) told me that someone in Performing Arts at Japan Society wanted to meet me. I just went and it turned out to be a job interview (laughs). Later that year was the 90th anniversary season of Japan Society and they were looking for a full-time staff for the busy season. I had no intention at the time of becoming a full-time “salary-based employee" of any organization, so I turned down the opportunity initially. But, then I was told that the Performing Arts department would give its staff members a lot of comp-time because it involved a lot of overtime work. I was convinced that I could use that free time to continue my own business, and accepted the job. This was a decision that forced me to wear two hats: as a researcher/writer/consultant in the arts in Japan, and a performing arts staff at Japan Society in America.
 
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