The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Minneapolis-based Walker Art Center, an international hub for cutting-edge performing arts
Walker Art Center
Mark di Suvero sculpture, Molecule, in Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1998.
Photo: Glenn Halvorson
Walker Art Center
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture, Spoonbridge and Cherry, in Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Photo: Dan Dennehy
Walker Art Center
Haegue Yang's, Blind Room, installed for Brave New Worlds exhibition, 2007.
Photo: Gene Pittman
Walker Art Center
Gallery view from exhibition, Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, 2007.
Photo: Gene Pittman

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What is the organizational structure of the Walker and how many staff work here?
    The entire Walker full-time staff is about 120 or 125. That includes front of house, people in registrations (the people who care for all the art work), marketing and finance and press. Then there are three separate primary curatorial departments. Visual arts is the largest and the longest standing. There’re as many as five or six curators within that program, either full-time curators or associate or assistant curators. In the Film & Video department there is staff of four and the performing arts have a staff of five.

What is the budget of the Walker and the performing arts programs?
    The entire walker’s budget is about $22 million, of which the performing arts budget is about $1 million. The performing arts budget only reflects the programming budget, including artists’ fee, travel, lodging, technical and marketing. It doesn’t include all the operations, salaries and other overhead, which is included in the $22 million.

Do the three curatorial departments coordinate programs to share the same theme or focus?
    We try very hard and we do as much as we can. I think our current director is very interested in finding even more ways that the different art forms can feel integrated and can be planned together. The challenge, of course, is that there are very different timeframes for each of these disciplines. The Exhibition may be planning four years from now, I’m working hard on finishing plans for the next season which is about a year to year and a half from now and the film department is working on the programs three to six month from now. So, it’s very difficult to line things up, but we’re working on the system to communicate with one another so that we can plan things jointly, or that we can take advantage of when there are things that seem naturally connected to frame them together.
    There are times that everyone works together. For instance, last year when the Yoko Ono show came, I was involved in doing some music programming, and there was a slide and lecture program and performance by Yoko, and the film department showed films by her.

The Walker’s current exhibition is featuring Tatsumi Kudo’s work and a film series directed by Nagisa Oshima is going on here too. To date, the Walker has presented major exhibitions related to Japan as well as a number of significant performing artists. Do you think that there’s a kind of “aesthetic match” between the Walker’s programming directions and Japanese artistic expressions?
    I don’t know quite how to say it intelligently, but I think that the Walker has for decades looked at Japan as another center of innovative thinking and new forms in contemporary art and expression and that were really across disciplines. For example, there was a landmark exhibition that was one of the most popular in our entire history that Martin Friedman led in the mid-80s, called “Tokyo Form and Spirit”. That exhibition drew a great number of people. It covered design, architecture, fashion, visual art, and media and it was a spectacular exhibition.
    There’s been a feeling that artists in Japan are often using technology or examining certain questions about living in modern times in ways that feel very ahead of our time. So we try to respond to that by being a major entry point for those artists in North America. Certainly, it’s been the case in the gallery spaces, and in dance, we presented Kazuo Ohno, Sankai Juku, Dairakudakan, Dumb-Type, Kim Itoh, Min Tanaka, Akira Kasai, Eiko & Koma, Kei Takei in the Sculpture Garden, and so on - really a rich long history. The film program has been very internationally-oriented. It’s been committed for a long time to new trends in Japanese films as well as retrospectives of the masters of Japanese filmmaking.

When you consider presenting Japanese artists in the future, what would you look for in them?
    I think that it’s very similar to how we look at American artists or European artists. Is this something that I’d never seen before, or is this something that feels like it’s asking new kinds of questions whether be in form or in content. In recent years, I’m looking at Japanese artists who are really adept at innovation within technology in theatrical work, for example, but who also have an equally powerful questions and contents in what their work’s about. I continued to be very impressed and fascinated with so much work coming out of Japan. And there’s a major figure I really admire but whom I not had a chance to bring over to the Walker and who we’re hoping to work out next year, Saburo Teshigawara. We’re now deeply involved in many grants and other efforts. He’s a kind of interdisciplinary artist who works across many genres, similar to someone like William Forsythe, Meredith Monk, or Merce Cunningham who, I think, is really right for this kind of institution.

What is the Walker’s vision for the future?
    I think that we’re interested in moving even further in finding ways that different disciplines work together, finding how these art forms can collaborate or can speak to one another. You’ll see our gallery space starting to feel even more interdisciplinary. We’ve done this before, but probably more frequent collaboration between visual artists and/or filmmakers, performance people and theater artists. We will continue to be a platform that people, who are otherwise kept apart because the fields are kept so separate, can actually come together and be inspired by one another.
    I think that you’ll continue to see very much commitment to commissioning work. Even in a down economic time we feel that it’s so important to give artists money upfront to support the making of new work before it’s really seen the light of day yet - what in Europe and I think in Japan is called “co-producing .” I think that as the economic times become more difficult, more arts organizations are pulling away from commissioning work, so we feel that it’s even more important than ever.

You are certainly one of the leaders in the field, serving on grants panels, advisor groups and being an active member of significant networks. I think it connects the Walker’s vision to the field nationally and internationally. Can you briefly talk about the organizations that you or the performing arts department is associated with.
    I’m a co-founder and a part of the contemporary art network, which is 12 organizations all over the country that represent performance programs within multi-disciplinary contemporary institutions. So, that’s an important network. Regarding the National Performance Network (NPN) (*10), we’re one of the 12 founding organizations and I continue to be very active with it. There is a new organization called the African Consortium, which is dedicated to the greater exchange between the Continent of Africa and the North America – there are ten organizations involved in that and we’re a founding member. We’re very involved in and I’ve been an advisor to the National Dance Project, which is an important system of support for contemporary dance production and touring. I’ve been on an advisory board for the Japan Society in New York for the last 2 years. Over the years, both myself and Julie Voigt, our Senior Program Officer, sat on The Japan Foundation’s Performing Arts Japan grant panel and we’ve taken regular trips to Japan. I co-chaired with Ella Buff a major meeting around increased commitment in the U.S. presenters field to international programming, called International Presenters Forum at Jacob’s Pillow. I’ve also been on the Etonne Donne, French American Fund for Performing Arts, which is a panel that supports exchange between the French and American artists. I’ve also served as sort of an Ambassador for the Australian Arts Council essentially helping people getting greater awareness and understanding for Australian artists. I’ve also been doing independent special research in Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia around new artists and art forms in terms of launching new projects and collaborations.

The list of the organizations alone speaks to the fact that the Walker is functioning as a pivot of national and international network in the field of performing arts. Thank you very much for your time today, sharing with us the inspiring history and the vision of the Walker.
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