|So the whole thing is based on complete trust.
Yes, of course. Well, because of that, the program may not be 100% perfect, and there’s risk-taking involved. But we are always making decisions based on impressions and trust in individuals.
In light of having 501(c)(3) status (for charitable, non-profit, religious, and educational organizations), somehow your organization will have to evaluate what your fellows have done in order to set your organization’s course, or direction, for near future and for long term. Then, what would be the criteria for such an evaluation? Apparently it is not based on the grantees’ reports.
We are a small organization investing in individuals. I think ACC institutionally, and myself personally, do not really have confidence in quantitative evaluation of arts and culture grant-making – in general. We are investing in people and, because of the personal nature of the grant program, we get to know these people and their work. We stay in contact with them when they are finished with the grant period. We try to nurture them at later stages through networking or through advice, or sometimes through additional support.
So, how to evaluate the success of this kind of grant? You watch 5, 10, or 15 years down the road and see what happens to that person. As we travel through Asia today, wherever we go, we see ACC fellows leading major cultural institutions, and/or being important voices in their respective fields. That’s how you evaluate whether or not what you are doing is successful.
So it’s really a long-term evaluation.
Yes. Therefore, it is difficult respond to a donor who may want a quantitative evaluation.
Let’s talk about the most recent change at ACC.
The change that just took place as of July 1st is that I am no longer going to work full-time for ACC. I’ve been here since 1976 – for 32 years, and I have been Director since 1991. I am going to start to work part-time, focusing on certain areas that I think I can make important contributions in. It is a personal decision to balance my life in a different way, to pursue some other interests. So my title was changed to Senior Advisor. The new Executive Director is Jennifer Goodale, who has been Vice President for Corporate Contributions at Altria Group (former Philip Morris). She is a marvelous philanthropic professional, and helped to develop the Altria Group’s giving program into one of the largest corporate supporters of the arts in this country. She knows the arts very well, and she knows arts institutions in this country very well. She is a marvelous manager; a very experienced fundraiser; a great team player. She has a lot of international experience, though she is not an Asia specialist. But she is surrounded by a team of professionals who know Asia well.
Is there any new mission or new agenda that Jennifer will be carrying out?
No. As I said before, our greatest strength is our consistency. It’s the consistency of our program that I think makes it successful. And the board certainly feels that way. But the challenge to ACC that’s new today is a financial one. We need to raise money, and that need is greater than ever before. It’s a kind of new thing for us in the American context. That’s why we started to have fundraising galas in New York City.
You mentioned that Jennifer is a great fundraiser. Then should other Asia-related U.S. organizations – like Japan Society, Asia Society, China Institute, or the Asian section of the Metropolitan Museum, or the Guggenheim Museum’s contemporary Asian art projects – be worried about the competition she represents. In other words, will ACC be taking away potential donors and corporations that are interested in involving themselves in Asia?
Of course not. We’ve been raising money actively here in the U.S. for the last ten years. The kinds of donors who are interested in supporting ACC are a very narrow slice, because we can give the donor very little public acknowledgement. We can’t give them what many public organizations – like Japan Society or the Guggenheim Museum can. We can’t put their name on a brochure or catalogue; we can’t name a program or performance after them; we don’t have an exhibition room to name after them. We can’t acknowledge them publicly in any way other than in our annual report or website.
In other words, we do not have a “public persona” of any kind because we are a foundation that makes grants: we don’t have programs that people see. So we need to tell people who we are and what we do. And when we say we are a foundation called the Asian Cultural Council founded by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, people say, “Oh, you are the Asia Society.” We say, “No, no, we are not the Asia Society. That is an organization that presents programs. We are a foundation.” And they say, “Oh, you are the Rockefeller Foundation.” Then we say, “No, we are not the Rockefeller Foundation.” So it’s very hard to get out a clear profile.
I think I understand the problem. But for me and for those who know about ACC, we cannot believe that there are so many people who don’t know about ACC. For us, and for many artists, ACC has always been the funding organization that you should look to first.
Thank you, but I would say we are basically unknown except among those in the Asian cultural field. That means it’s difficult for us to raise funds. Our donors really have to be those who have been nurtured to the point where they understand and believe in our program.
Does her job also include maintaining relationship with current donors in Asia and cultivating new donors there?
Yes but that will also continue to be my job and an important part of my work.
You have always said that Americans going to Japan is the most competitive area for grants.
In terms of American creative artists who want to go to Asia, now China is the most popular place and so competitive to get grants for. Still a lot of people want to go to Japan but it’s less competitive than before, like in the 90s. But money is always a problem. We have a large number of applications from Americans but relatively small amounts of grants we can make.
Right now how many fellows from Japan do you have in New York, including artists, scholars, and researchers?
There are not many right now. We have Satoshi Hashimoto, who is a visual artist; Yutaka Joraku, a choreographer; Mika Kobayashi, a curator from Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, who is doing an internship at the International Center of Photography. It just opened a Japan show, “Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan,” and she has been working on that. And Tomoko Sugawara, a harpist and “kugo” player. Kugo is an ancient member of the harp family that originated in West Asia. Tomoko has been playing these instruments and is very involved over the last 10 years or so in “kugo” projects in Japan, such as the National Theater’s restoration of Nara Shoso-in instruments. Here, she is working under the guidance of Bo Lawergren, a scholar in that field who studied a lot about central Asian harps.
Lastly, I would like to ask you what kind of experience you think is most precious for Japanese artists who spend time in New York?
Maybe it is to get a sense of “artistic community.” Musicians, composers, dancers, painters here in New York talk to each other, support each other, and see each other’s work. These communications create a sense of artistic community, and that is something that is difficult to have in Japan.
I totally agree with you. Many artists from Japan who came to New York on ACC grants told me more or less the same story that getting the sense of artistic community was an eye-opener. Thank you so much for your time and interesting stories.