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
Is that so? – but not in Japan…
    In Japan, not any more – but it used to be like that in Japan, too. I think ACC played a part in educating the arts and scholarly communities in various Asian countries about the concept of open application process for grants and awards.

Since this interview is for a performing arts website, I would like you to tell us a few stories that are examples of fantastic things that happened because of a grant.
    It would be a nice to have some other people talk about us – but I myself think of a number of composers. For example, Kondo Jo, who came here on a grant in, I think, 1979 or 1980, and spent a year in New York. He was a young composer who had interest in contemporary American music – John Cage and that school of thought. The experience here was very important for him, not simply in developing relationships with that world of composers, but also in better understanding his own place in the world as a composer in Japan. I believe he can speak about it more articulately. Three or four years later, Somei Satoh came on an ACC grant. He is a composer and thinker who is very Japan–focused, I think, in terms of his background, education and esthetic. Coming outside of Japan and spending time in the international environment in New York was, in a sense, even dramatic.

Do you mean that, in New York he re-discovered, or re-identified himself as a Japanese?
    I think that for Somei Satoh to come abroad and be in America was challenging to his mind. In terms of growth and development, that was a very powerful experience. What happened to him in America was that people heard his music and liked it. Then people in America started to play his music when nobody in Japan did. After his music was played internationally, people in Japan started to play his music. I think that was the more practical outcome – in a career sense.

Other examples in other fields?
    Let’s talk about a more recent case: Kimura Manami, aka Kiritake Masaya, from Otome Bunraku. The first part of her ACC grant was for her to go to Indonesia. And she experienced both rod puppet and shadow puppet, which were just incredible for her because she had little experience. She spent one month there and then came to the States for five months or so. Her time here was a wonderful experience. She interacted with contemporary puppet artists in this country, such as Basil Twist and Dan Hurlin in New York.

Yes, both are influence by Japanese traditional puppetry but each of them has created their own original puppet theater. And Basil is also one of the ACC fellows.
    Besides New York artists, Kimura Manami has also met artists like Larry Reed in California. A lot of things grew out of that. She has maintained some of those contacts and people invited her to go to Europe. She is also an example of the issue of language barrier. It was interesting – she did not speak English but she was not shy about trying to communicate, and she was able to communicate so well with people without speaking English but through her puppetry art.

How about the other side: American fellows going to Asian countries? Have there been any significant results there – in performing arts?
    Oh, a lot. Take Karen Kandel – the actress of Mabu Mines who works with many experimental theater directors. With our grant, she went to Japan for the first time. Part of that was to prepare for her work in Ong Keng Sen’s theater piece called “Geisha.” She was meeting and interviewing geisha, which we were eventually able to help her to do. It was very hard to do that because our official contacts in the arts world weren’t able to help us. While she was there she became very engaged with Noh theater. She started to study and since then she has been going back to Japan frequently. She became very close to a number of Japanese artists.

I understand that. I have seen how many ACC fellows, both American and Japanese, quite often go back to the countries where they spent time on grants. And there are also many international stars in the art world who are former ACC fellows.
    In the star status category, we can talk about Murakami Takashi. He had one of our grants in 1992 when he was a young artist. He was beginning to get some attention in a kind of controversial way, but he wasn’t a star. He spent a year in New York at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center. P.S.1 had run an International Studio Program since 1977. Beginning in mid-80s P.S.1 started a Japan studio within that program, and every year ACC provided funds for artists from Japan to participate in the program. Murakami was in that program. Kawamata Tadashi was another one. Cai Guo-Qiang was in that program because he was living in Japan in those days. Unfortunately, P.S.1 has ended their International Studio Program recently…

People in the arts often point out that ACC’s fellows are everywhere. When there is an artist who has become financially successful or had a career success, or is becoming an international big name – we often find, “Oh, again, this is another ACC grantee.” We constantly see new star artists who are ACC fellows. Then we say, “ACC dominates the world!” How do you feel about comments like that?
    I would say, it’s great if there are so many fellows who are doing important work and being known in the field. But what people who make that comment don’t recognize is how many grantees you have never heard of, which are most of them. So it’s a relatively small number of people who have become known. More is better I think, but most of our grantees are those you may not know about: the director of the small theater company in Chiangmai, an artist in Ho Chi Minh City, or a choreographer in Solo. So saying that “ACC dominates the world” is incorrect. There are a few stories like that but our program is basically a very small one.

I know that every fellow has to make a report when their grant period is over. Is it OK if it turns out that what they said they wanted to do in their application turns out to be totally different from what they have actually done?
    Of course that’s fine. One would expect that once you begin to experience something new, your idea is going to be changed. So I think it’s quite natural that, as you are engaged with a new place and new experiences your goals and objectives will be changed from what you thought before you were engaged with the experience.

Then, how about one case that I actually know. An Asian fellow came to New York and ACC staff were trying to set appointments to have him meet with some interesting people who would probably be wonderful contacts for his future career. But the grantee treated such services as annoying and preferred to cocoon himself in his apartment. He was in New York on grant but didn’t go out; didn’t want to meet anybody. Is that still OK?
    Sure, it’s OK if that cocooning is helpful for that fellow. Suppose that he is a creative artist and might need time to think and so he’s cocooning. That’s OK.
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