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Japan’s Artist-in-Residence Programs


Yasuko Ogiwara, Association for Corporate Support of the Arts (Kigyo Mecenat Kyogikai)

What is an Artist-in-Residence Program?

An artist-in-residence (AIR) program is a program by which domestic or international artists are invited to a set location for a set period of time to have their activities supported for that period. Interest in AIR programs has grown considerably in Japan since the first half of the 1990s and increasing numbers of regional governments have tried their hand at managing their own programs.
The primary objective of this article is to survey the way in which AIR programs have developed in Japan over the last decade or so. To begin with I would like to discuss the situation in the west, where AIR programs first developed.

The Development of AIR Programs in Europe and America, and the Background of that Development

Programs similar in nature to AIR programs were held from long before the term “artist-in-residence” was coined. In France the Rome Award was established by the French Academy in the 17th century, and since that time recipients have been sent to stay at the Villa Medicis in Rome. In the United States, the Black Mountain College was opened in the 1930s as a training center for artists. Likewise, whenever an artist was commissioned to do “site-specific work” it was obviously necessary for them to visit the work site, and wherever regional music and dance seminars or festivals were held, there were of course artists traveling back and forth over international borders.
With such events already in existence, in the 1950s and 1960s the :”artist-in-residence” system was born and the concept of artists conducting their creative activities within the context of a different culture or environment was refined further.
Of great importance in the new AIR programs was the idea that the artist’s stay not necessarily involve the “production” or “presentation” of work.
heir main point was that artists be given time for creation and research. By allowing them to spend time in a different environment or culture, they would be given an opportunity for private study and reciprocal learning of the sort that would inspire new developments in their artistic endeavors. In this way, the protection of the artist’s freedom became a central tenet of AIR programs, and a clear distinction was made between them and other residence-style activities – such as exhibitions or festivals – where the “presentation” of work was involved.
A second important element of AIR programs was the desire for a place where completely new methods of expression could be nurtured – something that was not feasible within the existing museum / theatre system.
For example, the origins of the Kuestlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin can be traced back to the anti-establishment student movements of the 1960s. In order to carry out their desired reform of traditional concepts of art, the art students of the time sought places where they could engage in completely unfettered expression. Having at first squatted in vacant buildings, they were soon granted recognition by the government and a former hospital was provided as a Kuestlerhaus (Artists’ House). In other cases, the artists went about acquiring sites by a variety of means, often converting former schools, monasteries, deceased estates and castles. For this reason there was a tendency towards alternative artistic activities often opposed to accepted norms.

The Dawn of AIR Programs in Japan

It is only recently that the term “artist-in-residence” has gained widespread recognition in Japan. Since well before that time, however, Japanese artists had been participating in AIR programs overseas. With the support of the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), young Japanese artists had stayed – and continue to stay – for 6 to 12 months at New York’s P.S.1., a venue known for launching the careers of many artists. Numerous Japanese artists had also taken advantage of domestic funding systems, such as the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Overseas Study Program for Artists and others provided by corporate foundations, in order to participate in AIR programs throughout the world.
However, in terms of artists coming to Japan, the first genuine AIR programs – as opposed to exhibitions or festivals involving the invitation of participants – were actually organized by foreign embassies. The main reasons for this were probably that interest in AIR programs had grown faster overseas than in Japan, and also that there were many artists attracted to Japan as a location for artistic creation.
In 1987 the Australia Council for the Arts borrowed an apartment in Tokyo’s Monzennakacho and established the “Visual Arts/Craft Board (VACB) Studio” (generally referred to as the “Australian Artist Studio”). In 1992 the Austrian Embassy in Tokyo renovated an old house in Fujino (Kanagawa Prefecture), establishing the “Austrian Art House”, to which it invited Austrian artists. Also in 1992 the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs built the “Villa Kujoyama” as a place for exchange between France and Japan. Since than more then ten artists and researchers have visited each year.

AIR Activities by Japanese Organizations

Probably the first example of a large-scale Japanese AIR program was 1993′s “TAMA Life 21″. This program was held as part of the 100th anniversary of the transferal of the Tama region to Tokyo Metropolitan government. Four studios (for stone sculpture, print, textile and ceramics) were constructed in the areas of Hinode, Itsukaichi (now Akiruno), Hachioji and Machida, and four artists – a total of 16 – were invited to each of the studios.
Two years earlier the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (Shiga-ken Togei no Mori), which was similar in structure to an AIR program, had been established in Shiga Prefecture. The Park is very large and includes not only a training center, which is provided to aspiring ceramicists, but also the Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art (for exhibiting Shigaraki-ware), and the Exhibition Hall of Industrial Ceramics, which has connections to the local ceramics industry.
Programs like this – that are run by regional governments and place great emphasis on the unique characteristics of the local area – exist elsewhere too: Mino’s Paper Art Village (Mino – Kami no Geijutsumura), Seto’s Ceramics and Glass Art Center (Seto Shinseiki Kogeikan) and the Takeo Program for International Artistic and Cultural Exchange (Takeo Chiiki Kokusai Geijutsu Bunka Koryu Jigyo) are examples. In fact, a defining characteristic of Japan’s AIR programs has been a strong tendency to take advantage of the peculiar characteristics of the local area, either by drawing on its physical location, or perhaps inviting artists active in fields related to the local culture, history or industry. From the fact that Japanese AIR programs are often suffixed with the term “Art Village” (geijutsu no mura) we can also detect another objective, that of art-lead community revitalization.
The main reason that many of Japan’s AIR programs are now undertaken by regional governments is that in 1997 the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Section for the Promotion of Cultural Activities in Regional Areas commenced the “Artist-in-Residence Program”. Existing and new AIR programs in ten areas around the country were given financial support for three to five years and the Agency joined with various prefecture, city or town-level governments to become the co-organizers of those programs. While the Agency required that the AIR program’s administrative body take the form of a specially appointed organizing committee, it also stipulated that the regional governments themselves must contribute (in the form of funds, at least) to program management. In addition, some programs also obtained sponsorship from private corporations. Of the 27 AIR programs that responded to the research presented here, 14 were – or had in the past been – recipients of this support.

Japan’s AIR Programs: Regional Governments Take the Initiative

An obvious consequence of regional governments becoming organizers of AIR programs is that their objectives are broadened to include not only support for artists, but also the promotion or revitalization of those regions. Having invited this ‘creative human resource’ to the region, the question becomes the extent to which they can make it (the artist) available to the community. In this way exchange activities with local residents become an important part of program content. A look at the AIR programs being held around the country today reveals the extent of this phenomenon. During their stays artists are expected to make their activities accessible to the public in some form or other – often via open studios, talk shows, or workshops. Even at the best of times AIR programs produce few immediately tangible results, and so without some form of exchange activity it is very difficult to gain the support of local residents. Here the capability of the organizer is often put to the test.
Exchange activities provide local residents with the chance to get to know the artists’ thoughts, and even participate in the creative process. In this way, they open up an entirely new world to people who would normally have little contact with art. Depending on how the exchange activities are arranged, their two-way nature can afford a sense of affinity and genuine pleasure that is unattainable in places like art museums, where only a one-way relationship between work and viewer is possible. However, when the artist senses this “service” to local residents to be an obligation or restriction they will occasionally make their dissatisfaction known. Artistic support and regional development: in AIR programs managed by regional governments the balance between these two elements will always be a point of contention.

Future Prospects

While AIR programs are by nature primarily content-centered, the problem of infrastructure has also seen a variety of solutions. In some cases, such as the “Akiyoshidai International Art Village” (Yamaguchi), both studio and accommodation facilities have been purpose-built. In other cases the studio has been purpose-built and artists reside in existing rental accommodation. There are also programs in which the studio is a converted or temporarily borrowed school or house. While it would be easiest to manage the yearly schedule with a purpose-built facility at hand, the fact is that only a few AIR programs involve artists being invited year-round; the majority see a number of artists come for a limited period of time only.
A more fundamental issue is the fact that often the systems for inviting artists are less than perfect in terms of staff and budget, and in some cases organizers have only gradually built up their know-how through trial and error. In addition to regional governments there are also art museums and universities conducting AIR programs. Generally aimed at mutual exchange on a specialist level, the receiving institution expects some kind of stimulus through the invitation of world-class artists. Another pattern is where artists or non-profit organizations manage to invite particularly talented artists by establishing their own connections with international art centers. In the future it is desirable that a variety of organizations, and not only regional governments, take on the management of AIR programs. Also, it is likely that the need to share know-how and information with overseas AIR programs and network organizations will grow.

[July, 2001]