The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Looking into the heart of the Asian Cultural Council, an organization that has helped support over 5,000 artists
ACC also gives money to American individuals and institutions to send artists to Asia.
    First of all, our program has always had an emphasis on grants for Asians coming to America. Our Japan Program is, by definition, a bilateral program so for many years, our Japan Program was the only program in which we could support American artists going to Asia. But now we have special funding from The Henry Luce Foundation that enables us to do more in sending American artists to any country in Asia.

Any other new thing today?
    Starting from 2000, we also make grants for regional exchange within the Asia: not just US-Asian. That is, somebody from China who might want to go to Japan; or somebody in Japan who might want to get a grant to go to Indonesia. This change began with our applicants in Japan who wanted to understand more about other parts of Asia.     Also, we have a lot of grantees from China, especially in the performing arts field, especially those who are trained in traditional art forms, who are interested in Japan. For example, somebody here right now is a wonderful qin player, who is very interested in contemporary music and experimental music. For China, a traditionally trained performing artist trying to do something new is a recent phenomenon. But in Japan, this has happened for a longer time.

Let’s talk about the application, evaluation, and review processes.
    People who want ACC grants may apply to the office here in New York, or they might apply to one of our Asian offices. And we begin reviewing applications at the application form stage. As the next step we might look at work samples. From there we start to look more carefully and we will have our staff actually meet the most competitive applicants. So we have a lot of staff traveling in Asia.

Is that an interview process?
    We have tried to avoid the word “interview.” “Meeting applicants” is more like visiting the applicants in their home environment, to understand better who they are, what their work is like in their own context – and what kind of context that is. We’d like to grasp those things – and that becomes a part of the evaluation process. Every now and then we might ask our colleagues who work closely with applicants to meet them for us. But generally speaking, we try to meet the applicants directly before we are ready to recommend grants.

What are the numbers of applications ACC receives, and how many of applicants will actually meet with ACC staff?
    It’s hard to say but this year, for example, maybe we had a thousand people who said, “I’d like to apply for grant.” Maybe 700 of them qualified to receive an application form from us. This year 450 people actually returned completed application forms. Out of that group, we probably actually met about 80 individual applicants. In total, we make over 100 grants including Americans going to Asia, and grants to institutions.

What kinds of people are involved in the evaluation process? Do you have a selection committee?
    We do have advisory committees in different places and in different fields. Our office in each country has a local advisory committee. Committee members meet, and they make recommendations. We carefully call them “advisory,” not “selection” committees, because their recommendations are part of a larger process. Depending on what kinds of applications we receive, we form different advisory committees.

Naturally I have many chances to meet Japanese artists who are interested in coming to New York, and American artists who are interested in going to Japan. I quite often tell those artists about ACC and, if their purposes are not for specific projects such as having an exhibition or giving performances but rather simple interest in what-is-going-on on the other side, I always encourage them to apply. Some of them have actually contacted ACC and submitted a brief description of what they want to do, and some have received the application forms from ACC.
    That’s good. In terms of how people apply, sometimes they just hear about us, or they found us through the Internet or whatever. The second way is that people who know the program, or who had a grant from us, tell young artists and researchers about ACC – like you do. We have over 5,000 former fellows all over Asia and America. They are a wonderful resource for encouraging new applicants. Then, the third way is, sometimes in the course of staff travel, the staff encounter an artist who they think is particularly fascinating, important, and interesting – and who would benefit from international experience. We might encourage such artists to apply.

When your staff encourages an artist to apply that way, it does not mean that the artist’s application process is waived…?
    No, of course not. Everybody has to submit applications. I often explain to people who are applying for grants: In any competitive granting process, the first step begins by separating the strong from the weak. You can cut out half of the applicants pretty quickly. Then maybe you can cut half of those and you keep working your way up. But at the very last step, no matter what, there will be 10 equally qualified people for only one slot. Then, how do you make that decision? They are equally deserving. How to make that final decision is really, really hard.
    The understanding is that sometimes you get good results, sometimes you don’t. And I think Americans in the arts accept this concept because we have a 50-year history of applying for grants. But this process is new in many countries in Asia, and when you hand a person the application form, or start the application process, they might think they are getting the grant.
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