The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist aAn Ovewview.
Jun. 9, 2010
Private-Sector Support for Culture and the Arts  
Private-Sector Support for Culture and the Arts  

In addition to national policy, the year 1990 also marked a major turning point in private-sector support for the arts and culture in Japan. The impetus was the 1988 Japan-France Cultural Summit held in Kyoto on the topic of culture and private sponsorship, and the introduction of the Mécénat concept. This led to the establishment of the Association for Corporate Support of the Arts in 1990.

From Sponsorship as Advertising to Real Support of the Arts

During the 1980s, private corporations established cultural facilities in major urban areas, and sponsored cultural events their names partly for the consequent advertising effects. At the end of the 1980s, the concept of social philanthropy was introduced by the United States at about the same time as the Mécénat concept of corporate arts and culture sponsorship, and there was active debate on why private corporations should support arts and culture, as well as other issues concerning policy in Japan. Corporations consequently had second thoughts about sponsorship-as-advertisement, and the notion took hold that private corporations should support the arts as a part of their social responsibility.

Major corporations subsequently set up departments dedicated exclusively to cultural and philanthropic programs. Such programs were increasingly included in regular corporate budgets, and the Mécénat concept gradually took hold. Recently the number of companies who participate in Mécénat activities has increased in keeping with the emphasis on “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). According to a 2006 survey of Mécénat programs, 65.1% of respondents said that they “consider Mécénat activities as a part of CSR,” and a total of 87.0% said they planned “to conduct /continue conducting such activities in the future as a part of CSR.” The survey also showed that 68.8% of corporations implemented Mécénat programs, spending a total of 25.7 billion yen between them. This amounted to a quarter of the budget of Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, clearly showing that corporate Mécénat activities are vital to the arts in Japan.

During the late 1980s and 1990s many private foundations were established to distribute grants for the arts. There are presently 23 member foundations in the Alliance of Arts and Cultural Foundations, and 12 of these were established in 1990 or later. Unfortunately, almost all of these foundations allocate grants exclusively for music and fine arts. One exception is the Saison Foundation, founded in 1987, which has provided grants for contemporary theater and dance.

The policy of the Saison Foundation covers three basic areas: long-term support for artists of the next generation and their creative activities; a compound support system that includes provision of studios and so forth; and support towards the improvement of the performing arts infrastructure. Its multi-year operational support for arts organizations that started in 1992, in particular, was a key precursor of the Arts Plan 21 of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Up to now, it has provided assistance to 33 theater and dance companies and fulfilled a valuable role in fostering contemporary performing arts organizations that represent Japan. This foundation has also been active in supporting international exchange projects in the performing arts, with significant results.

Mécénat Programs Since the Burst of the Economic Bubble

In the years following the collapse of the Japanese “bubble” economy in 1989, many cultural facilities closed down. In 1999 the Saison Museum of Art closed in February, followed by the announcement in April that the Casals Hall would no longer be sponsoring performances, and the closure of the Saison Theater in November. The Ôgimachi Museum Square, which had been a base for fringe theater performance in the Kansai region, closed in December 2002. Globe Tokyo was sold to Johnny & Associates, a major entertainment production company, in October 2002. More recently, in October 2007, Kirin Plaza Osaka, a complex that been at the vanguard of contemporary art in Kansai, shut its doors. On the other hand, facilities run by corporations, such as Tokyu’s Bunkamura, the Suntory Hall, Tokyo Opera City, and others, are continuing a vital role in Japanese art. In 2007, great excitement surrounded the opening of the Suntory Museum of Art and the Fuji Xerox Art Space in Roppongi’s Tokyo Midtown.

Indeed, the Mécénat budgets that had shrunk so rapidly after 1990 began to grow again in 1995, underscoring how firmly established they had become despite the economic slump. In 1994, the Association for Corporate Support of the Arts founded a new private grant scheme. This association is a corporate body authorized to make special contributions to public welfare, and corporate or private donations to it that are tagged for arts organizations and NPOs are eligible for tax exemptions. During the past few years, the total amount of donations received and grants made have increased dramatically. In 2006, 1,515 donations totaling 1.2 billion yen were distributed to 206 projects, making it an invaluable route for funds from the private sector to artistic activities.

Essential Changes in Mécénat Programs

At the same time, major changes have been made in Mécénat programs. At the beginning of the 1990s, the majority of relationships between private-sector corporations and artists or arts organizations were basically one way. These programs were transformed, however, into partnerships between corporations and arts organizations, with support expanding to include equipment, materials, facilities, techniques, and know-how in addition to funding. According to surveys on Mécénat programs, over 60% of corporations are planning and implementing their own arts projects, and there has been an increase in the number of projects, including collaborations with theaters, NPOs, and other such specialized agencies.

Another trend in Mécénat activities has been emphasis on local connections. The 2006 survey showed that 62.1% of corporations mentioned “promotion of local culture” as one of their priorities. One prominent example is the Asahi Art Festival, established in 2002 and organized by Asahi Breweries, Ltd. in conjunction with art NPOs and community groups throughout the country. The festival is a unique art project focused on individual regions, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. The Arts NPO Forum, first held in Kobe in 2003, also receives support from the private sector. The seventh such forum was held on Awajishima in December 2007. It has been held in different parts of the country—Sapporo, Maebashi, Aomori, Beppu, and Osaka—each time featuring events arising from the collaboration between the main sponsor, the Arts NPO, and local arts NPOs. Corporation donations enable unused stores and warehouses to be turned into Forum venues, creating new locations for artistic activities everywhere it is held.

While these trends are indicative of overall corporate Mécénat activity, there has also been a gradual diversification in the content of activities conducted by individual corporations, several noteworthy instances of which are described below.
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