The Asian Cultural Council: Fostering Transformative Cultural Exchange between Asia and the United States

Masako Shiba
55th Anniversary Gala of Asian Cultural Council October 2018
Masako Shiba, Director of The Asian Cultural Council Japan Foundation
Tatsuo Miyajima exhibition: Portraits of Tatsuo Miyajima, exhibition installation & conference images at the MCA on November 2nd, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Anna Kucera)
Michiko Tsuda, You would come back there to see me again the following day. NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC], Tokyo, 2016. Photo Tadasu Yamamoto
Yuko Mohri installaiton at Towada Art Center, You Locked Me Up in a Grave, You Owe Me at Least the Peace of a Grave, 2018
Yuko Mohri, Weavers of Worlds, A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern _ Contemporary Art at MOT 2019
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FIRST OPEN | Hong Kong | CHRISTIE'S

In an exclusive interview, newly appointed director – Masako Shiba – reveals how she and The Asian Cultural Council Japan Foundation aim to foster a transformative cultural exchange between Asia and the United States.

Text: Julia Tarasyuk
Images: Courtesy of the Asian Cultural Council

55th Anniversary Gala of Asian Cultural Council October 2018

 

Last year, the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), one of the major international organizations fostering cultural exchange between Asia and the United States, established the ACC Japan Foundation. The Asian Cultural Council is a non-profit organization founded by John D. Rockefeller 3rd in 1963. Since then it has been instrumental in offering support to boost the career of many established artists in Japan and beyond. With the mission of deepening international dialogue, understanding, and respect through cultural exchange activities ACC offers fellowships and programs that support individual artists, scholars, and arts professionals. To date, ACC has supported nearly 6,000 exchanges of alumni from 26 countries, in 16 artistic disciplines.

To establish the ACC Japan Foundation, Masako Shiba headed from New York to her native Tokyo as its newly-appointed director. In the midst of her busy first few months, Masako speaks about the founding principles of the organization, Japanese contemporary artists and how to build bridges between two cultures, so different but so inextricably connected.

 

Masako Shiba, Director of The Asian Cultural Council Japan Foundation

 

Tell me a little bit more about this new initiative you’re heading – the Asian Cultural Council Japan Foundation. How different is it from its New York headquarters or ACC Hong Kong, Manila, and Taipei affiliates? 

ACC’s program supports both emerging and established arts practitioners across a diverse range of disciplines. Japanese grantees have included artists such as Takashi Murakami (ACC 1994, 2005), Yayoi Kusama (ACC 1964, 1996, 2012), Kohei Nawa (ACC 2004), and Tatsuo Miyajima (ACC 1989).

Headquartered in New York, ACC has offices and partner foundations in Hong Kong, Manila, Taipei, and Tokyo. ACC’s Japan office was founded in 1983. Since then, our Japan program has accounted for a significant amount of ACC’s grantmaking at large. ACC Japan Foundation is an exciting new global initiative, which builds on our Japan Program’s work and will focus on increasing our capacity to promote cultural exchange and enhance our alumni network to build a stronger community around arts and culture.

 

Tatsuo Miyajima exhibition: Portraits of Tatsuo Miyajima, exhibition installation & conference images at the MCA on November 2nd, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Anna Kucera)

 

What are the main changes you’re aiming to introduce to the operations of ACC Japan? 

Our new initiative aims to enhance our existing programs and raise awareness of the importance of cultural exchange and the impact our ACC grantees have had and continue to have in their communities.

 

Any challenges you think you might encounter?

Anything new is a challenge, but it’s going to be worth the adventure! We are excited to embark on this journey.

 

Did ACC’s founder have a particular affinity towards Japanese culture? Do you know of any encounters that fostered their interest in the region?

In the early years of our program, Japan constituted the largest geographic component of the grant program.  This was no doubt due to Mr. Rockefeller’s long-standing ties there—to his personal interest in Japanese art and culture; to his role in establishing the International House of Japan; and to his commitment to rebuilding US–Japan relations in the post-war era.

In addition, we were very fortunate to have had the generous support of Mr. Seiji Tsutsumi, whose endowment gift in 1983 enabled us to establish our ACC Japan office and facilitate fellowship programs between Japan and the United States.

 

I love Mr. Rockefeller’s phrase that ‘the fostering of cultural relations can be a form of insurance for the future of this dangerous but exciting world.’ How in your opinion can this “insurance” contribute to the Japanese contemporary art scene otherwise known for a rather insular approach? 

John D. Rockefeller 3rd believed cultural exchange leads to a deep, mutual understanding and respect necessary to achieve a more peaceful world. This belief is best articulated in our founder’s own words: “Through knowledge and respect for other cultures, we come to respect and appreciate the peoples themselves…I am convinced that this avenue toward understanding…is crucial to success in advancing peace and amity among nations and bequeathing a gentler world to future generations.” Contemporary art often reflects the “current” state of society. It is a platform for Japan to share its unique qualities, as well as commonalities with the rest of the world. I believe art is extremely helpful in creating a better global understanding of Japan.

 

Michiko Tsuda, You would come back there to see me again the following day. NTT InterCommunication Center [ICC], Tokyo, 2016. Photo Tadasu Yamamoto
Yuko Mohri installaiton at Towada Art Center, You Locked Me Up in a Grave, You Owe Me at Least the Peace of a Grave, 2018

 

What would you say are the major differences between the dynamic of the art scenes in NY and Tokyo in this particular moment of time?

It’s hard to say as I’ve only been in Tokyo for a short period of time, but the structural difference in the art industry is very different and interesting to me.

 

With your programming are you aiming to introduce any Western art market tools to the Tokyo scene?

I think there is so much potential in the Japanese art scene. What has been achieved academically and market-wise, is very strong and should be celebrated. Japan has a lot to offer the global art scene. With our extensive alumni network in mind, I hope the ACC Japan Foundation can help introduce Japanese artists to a larger international platform.

 

What are the main goals of ACC Japan for the next few years?

So much! We hope to continue to build and strengthen our community and network of art professionals and supporters through unique programming initiatives. We hope to be a platform for critical dialogue around cultural exchange. There will be special events and educational opportunities for diverse audiences. Like our grantees, we hope to be the game changer, the door opener, the trailblazer that makes the world a better place through dialogue, understanding, and respect that is achieved through cultural exchange.

 

Projects we can look forward to? ACC artists we should closely follow?

There’s work by established artists, such as Tatsuo Miyajima (ACC 1989), as well as work by emerging artists, like Yuko Mohri (ACC 2014). Yuko Mohri will present her work in a group show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo this spring. I especially like how Yuko, an installation artist, merges different categories, notably sound and sculpture, and creates “organic environments” that keep changing throughout the duration of the exhibition. The ephemeral element is intriguing. For collectors to be involved with art, we need to think about how we can sustain works that are not tangible. This also goes for Michiko Tsuda (ACC 2018) showing now in the Roppongi Crossing 2019: Connexions exhibition at Mori Art Museum and Lyota Yagi (ACC 2009) in Yokohama Museum’s exhibition from their collection. Among other exhibitions I am excited to see is the important post-war Japanese contemporary art exhibition, co-curated by our grantee Dr. Reiko Tomii (ACC 1987) and Director of Japan Society Gallery, Yukie Kamiya, which will take place in New York in March. It focuses on the works and practices by Japanese artists from the 1960s. Gutai (1950s) and Mono-ha (1970s) have received recognition but this exhibition highlights the period in between, which Tomii-sensei dubs the “time when unconventional artistic practices led to a gateway to the global art scene.”

 

Yuko Mohri, Weavers of Worlds, A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern _ Contemporary Art at MOT 2019

 

 

Yokohama Museum of Art, Collection “Rhythm, Resonance, Noise”
January 4 – March 24, 2019
Mori Art Museum, Roppongi Crossing 2019: Connexions, February 9 – May 26, 2019

 

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Weavers of Worlds – A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern / Contemporary Art
March 29 – June 16, 2019
Japan Society New York, Radicalism in the Wilderness, March 8 – June 9, 2019

 

 


 

Julia Tarasyuk is an art consultant and art writer with over a decade of experience collaborating with museums, galleries and independent art projects in Russia, UK, France and Japan. In 2015 she started an online magazine Museeum.com and runs the platform as its editor-in-chief. Julia is currently based in Tokyo, where she organizes tailor-made art tours for various institutions, arts councils and private collectors and actively supports the exchange between the Japanese and international art scene. Julia is an author of “Art Tokyo” book published in Russia in 2018.

 

 

 
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