The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Samuel A. Miller
Mr. Samuel A. Miller
Presenter Interview
The world of Samuel Miller, a leader in arts management in the U.S. 
The world of Samuel Miller, a leader in arts management in the U.S. 
Samuel A. Miller has had an exceptional career as a presenter, producer, leader of arts funding organizations and consultant in the not-for-profit field of the arts. From 2004 to 2009 he served as President and CEO of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC). Before that he served as Executive Director of the New England Foundation for the Arts for ten years. During that tenure, Mr. Miller pioneered a number of nationally significant programs, including the National Dance Project and the Cambodian Artists Project. Under his leadership NEFA also launched important new projects in New England like the Creative Economy Initiative (a project gathering information about the contribution of NPO arts activities to the New England economy to confirm the importance of these NPO activities) and Expeditions (a program which disseminates information and uses arts support funding to support touring of interdisciplinary arts projects in the New England region). Prior to NEFA, Mr. Miller served as Managing Director and then Executive Director and President at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival (1986-95), one of America’s leading summer festivals. Last year he resigned his position as President and CEO of LINC to take the position of President of the Board while pursuing a new career as a freelance producer and consultant. In this interview we spoke with Mr. Miller about his past, present and future activities.
(Interview: Yoko Shioya, Artistic Director of Japan Society, NY)

You have accomplished so many things in your career, and probably there must have been threads of coherency along which you have done things, so I would like to begin by asking you how you started your career in the arts in not-for-profit field.
OK, just quickly (laughs). I grew up in Providence in Rhode Island. My parents were involved in funding a local theater company called Trinity Repertory Company. I studied theater, then worked as a stage manager. I switched to the field of dance early on thanks to, my younger brother Adam who is a choreographer and was a dancer. I worked for Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia. Then, I worked for Pilobolus in Connecticut, and then Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts, where I worked for 10 years. Then I went to the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). While I was there I was able to keep working on dance projects. In 2004, I left NEFA to work for Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC). Then, just last year, 2009, I shifted from serving as President and CEO to President of the Board, and in July started my own company and am doing different kinds of arts projects, either as a consultant or producer.
 So talking about “threads,” I’ve been really interested in dance now for close to 30 years. I’ve been working internationally—actually my first international work was bringing Pilobolus to Japan in 1984. I’ve kept doing both things for the last 25 years, particularly during my 10 years at the Jacob’s Pillow and 10 years at NEFA. My work in dance has been primarily in contemporary dance, and my international work has been primarily in Asia.

Would you tell us more about the involvement in Asia?
When you look at the modern and contemporary dance in the U.S., a lot of key influences are Asian. When I was at Jacob’s Pillow, people were going and seeing things, there was a fair amount of traffic in those days back and forth between the U.S. and Europe, and there was less traffic and less exchange between the U.S. and Asia. But I just feel like some of the really influential artists were based in Asia and some of the more interesting younger artists I thought would be emerging from there. Artist’s creative development is strengthened by exposure to new information,. so I thought it would be important to support exchange between the U.S. and Asia.
 While I was at Jacob’s Pillow, I became very involved through the JACCC (Japan America Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles) with their Japan-US Performing Arts Collaborations Project, led by Jerry Yoshitomi, then JACCC’s director. And I became more committed to international exchange. One of Jerry’s lessons was that you need to do this for a long term: you couldn’t just drop in and out. I learned the importance of the “long-term” in terms of building knowledge and relationships. In the early 90s, two other things happened. I developed with George Kochi (Tokyo) and Ralph Samuelson (New York), both of ACC (Asian Cultural Council), and the Saison Foundation (Tokyo) the Triangle Arts Project, which was an exchange between the U.S., Japan and Indonesia, and it continued for 15 years. About the same time, starting in1990, I began to work with artists from Cambodia – partnering with ACC, Asia Society and some key partners in Cambodia, with support from Rockefeller Foundation. We have been working with them for 20 years. The relationship between the U.S. and Japan and other Asian countries became a centerpiece for me in the late 90s through early 2000s. I worked hard to involve my colleagues from each region – Indonesia, Japan, the U.S., and other places like Singapore – into the network.

Talking about New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), for 10 years when you were there, many important programs were created and launched. The presence and influence of NEFA became more significant as a result. What was the background behind your move to NEFA, and what was your mission regarding what you thought you would be able to do, or what you would have to do?
Because I was working at Jacob’s Pillow, which is in New England region, I admired and knew of NEFA’s work. It was during the time that NEFA was directed by Holly Sidford. NEFA was really a very important resource to all of us presenters in New England. When Holly left for Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, I had a sense of what they need to do and could continue to do. One of the things that attracted me to it was that during my last couple of years at the Pillow, I had been involved in the development of MassMoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). Originally MassMoCA was conceived as a straightforward museum for “big art.” It was Thomas Krens’ idea (who later became the director of Guggenheim Museum). But when Tom left, Joseph Thompson who worked for Tom came up; and Joe and I worked together. What I added was the performing arts partnership, which changed the nature of the project a little bit (laughs). In other words, it was not just about “things” but about “people making things and showing things.” It became not just any exhibition space but a producing and performing place, and that led to the partnership between Jacob’s Pillow, Flynn Theater in Vermont, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, JACCC in Los Angeles and BAM in New York.
 I realized at the end how hard it is to both run an institution and build and run the partnerships that the organization needs to participate in. So I went to NEFA because it’s their business to support, to build and run partnerships in arts exchange primarily for performing arts. Presenters, artists and curators needed to be supported through networks and strategic partnerships. I wanted to do that. And one more reason that I wanted to do that was, I became more and more interested in international work, which is hard because it takes time for building relationships.
 When I got to NEFA in the mid-90s, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was in the midst of the so-called “Cultural Wars,” which led to significantly reduced funding to individual artists. It was a tough time. Dance was vulnerable, because touring programs and fellowship programs were at risk and deconstructed.
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