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Artist in Residence NOW 02 : City of Yokohama


Masaharu Nakahara and Yuka Nagai,
Promotion Committee for Commemorating 150th Anniversary of the
Opening Port of Yokohama City, City of Yokohama
Interviewer: Sachiko Kanno, the Japan Foundation;
Akemi Tsukada, NLI Research Institute

“Yokohama − The Creative City of Art and Culture.” This vision has prompted the City of Yokohama to develop various projects in order to create a model urban space, through culture, art, and business. The “Artists-in-Residence Exchange Program” started in 2005 as part of the City’s strategies to further endorse the Creative City. Masaharu Nakahara and Yuka Nagai of City of Yokohama spoke about the relationship between the arts and urban policies, and how the artist-in-residence program is incorporated into the process of developing attractive urban functions in the City.
(* Refer to AIR-JAPAN Database for the details of this program)

Creative City Yokohama: Formation of Creative Core Areas

──What is the “Creative City Yokohama” about?

Nakahara──The Creative City is based on a concept that advocates revitalization of the city through the promotion of the arts and culture. Yokohama has initiated four major projects under this policy: “National Art Park Plan”, “Formation of Creative Core Areas”, “Image Culture City”, and “International Triennale of Contemporary Art Yokohama”.
The second project, “Formation of Creative Core Areas,” aims to establish a creative core. This involves creating spaces for artistic activities, presentations, and residencies, to make art available and prevalent throughout the city. Creating spaces does not necessariliy mean building new purpose-built buildings. We are more interested in utilizing defunct, idle facilities in Yokohama, such as the historic buildings, that could enhance the unique character of this city.
We started BankART1929 in 2003 as the first pilot project to promote art that utilizes such historic buildings (former Fuji Bank and Dai-Ichi Bank; the building of the former Fuji Bank was used until December 31st, 2004, and then the functions later moved to the former warehouse of NYK). BankART has since developed into an influential art space where young artists gather and meet for their activities; we now recognize it as a full-fledged, official project.
During the 2005 Yokohama Triennale, ZAIM (buildings that formerly housed the Kanto Finance Department and the Bureau of Labor Standards) played a significant role as a base camp for the volunteers and the artists. The activities at this site were in alignment with the “Work-in-Progress” program, in which the director and the artists based themselves in Yokohama throughout the duration of the exhibition, so that they could continue to change their artworks on a daily basis. ZAIM eventually became indispensable among those people involved, as it became a center where dynamic interactions took place. We decided to continue using ZAIM as an art center after the Triennale, as we learned that it is important to continue and maintain a place where people can regularly visit, with an expectation to meet someone or participate in some events.
Furthermore, the Steep Slope Studio Yokohama Arts Platform (former wedding banquet hall, Oimatsu Kaikan El Paine)opened in December 2006 as a space for theater and dance performances.

Masaharu Nakahara(Right) / Yuka Nagai(Left)

“Artists-in-Residence Exchange Program” and its contribution to the Creative City Yokohama

──How do you place the “Artists-in-Residence Exchange Program” in the context of Creative City Yokohama?

Nakahara──Our mayor is interested in promoting exchange with cities, especially those in Asia. He believes that the exchange at the municipal level is becoming more important than those at the national level. Exchange with Asian cities is vital. The “Artists-in-Residence Exchange Program” was inaugurated in 2005 as a model for intercity exchange under the Creative City Yokohama policy. Whereas most of the artist-in-residence programs in Japan have open-calls for applicants, and call directly on artists, we go through institutions, as our priority is in building a network with partners with whom we could mutually encourage and cooperate. In 2005, we carried out an exchange program between Taipei Artist Village and BankART. Through this first run, we learned many new things and identified areas that could be further developed. As result, we sincerely felt that we needed to continue this kind of project. This year (2006), we carried out two exchange programs with Taipei and Beijing. For 2007, we are planning to expand these exchanges into three cities.

──What were the findings from these experiences and the areas of which you felt a need for further development?

Nakahara──This program could not offer many opportunities where the local residents could take part. It is understandable that the artists are not inclined to involve the public if their main purpose to take residency is to produce an artwork (and not necessarily to run a public program). However, if we could direct the program to focus more on stimulating communities through art, there would be more potential for running projects with local residents or non-profit art organizations.

──Artist-in-residencies in Japan often try to be accountable by emphasizing their direct engagement with the community. But as you have said, not all the artists wish to work directly with the public. How do you explain your position as the organizer to the artists, and how do your negotiations with artists affect the overall outcome of the program?

Nakahara──If the artists who took residency in Yokohama were to become famous in ten or twenty years, one could commend that our residency program has been able to bear a positive outcome. But as a municipal government, we cannot wait twenty years to see the result of a current project. For this reason, we think that running public programs, such as workshops that directly involve the local communities, is a practical solution that could establish immediate accountability. But it is also true that we are not completely ready yet to integrate these needs into the main part of the artist-in-residence program.

Nagai──This year the artist invited from Beijing held a workshop with students of Yokohama Overseas Chinese School. This was not planned in advance as part of our program, but a teacher of the Yokohama Overseas Chinese School came up with the idea. Such framework for community involvement is necessary for our residence program, but could be problematic at the same time, as obliging artists to participate in many public programs could restrict artists’activities.

Nakahara──We have to question who consists the community with which we engage. Are they the residents who live here? Are they the shopkeepers? How about the employees of the companies whose offices are located in the local areas? All of these people from different categories could be involved, if we were to look at what we call a community in a broad term. A single project could never respond to the needs and interests of all of these community members. So, it would be wiser to set a target group in a community.

──Isn’t it because your artist-in-residence program is positioned within the large framework of the Creative City that the responsibility for each project is allocated to different officers and the demarcation is made clear between different sections and departments?

Nakahara──Job allocation often causes barriers within an organization like a government office, and we try not to segregate ourselves according to job allocation, unless we are caught in an inevitable situation. We do get spontaneously involved with other sections or departments, such as urban planning, if their projects seem to have something to do with the Creative City. It all depends on our motivation.

──Fukuoka is the forerunner among Japanese cities, in promoting exchange with Asian cities. Also, Tokyo and Osaka are now emphasizing their interest in building municipal-level exchanges. How will Yokohama compete against such cities in Japan?

Nakahara──The sole objective of our activities is to realize the Creative City, so we find no use in minding other cities’ interests. The “Artists-in-Residence Exchange Program” is part of a comprehensive policy to cultivate the urban space through art and culture. We do not think that providing studios and accommodations for artists is enough to fulfill what we call an artist-in-residence. It needs to have an atmosphere distinct to this city. Art centers such as ZAIM, BankART, and Yokohama Museum of Art, as well as other historic buildings are concentrated in one area. We do not support individual institutions separately, but we focus on bringing synergy among them to fuel the attraction of Yokohama. This is the spirit that supports our activities.

The Future Prospects on the Creative City Yokohama

──We think that the definition of “art” or “artist” would need to be broadened. “Art” often refers to “high art,” but it should also involve areas that involve urban planners, designers, and architects. Also, art needs to find a way to build good partnership with the industry. Not many artists have a good sense of economy. The objective of “Formation of Creative Core Areas” is to develop an area where artists and those who are intermediaries between art and business to gather, discuss, and realize new ideas of artworks, products, and urban planning.

Nakahara──Certainly, we cannot regard art as a form of business at the current stage, so we should broaden the sphere of art or artists, to include fields such as the media contents industry. The goal of the Creative City is to establish a model for collaboration between the arts and the business.
Ideally, Creative Core Areas would be a place where artists or professionals in the creative industry could gather and stay. During the Yokohama Triennale, we saw what kind of an effect such an active place could exert. From this point of view, the artist-in-residence program is important, indeed, even though we can invite only a few artists for a limited period with the current program.
Yokohama will set up a new organization called Arts Commission in July 2007. This organization will serve as the hub for information on art in Yokohama, and mainly provide information for artists and non-profit organizations in Yokohama, assist them in their network-building, and give them advice on community activities through art. The City of Yokohama and the Yokohama Arts Foundation will jointly administrate this organization to build partnership with non-profit organizations that are based in the central area of the city. We will work on developing functions to supply various information, not only for the artists in Japan, but also for those coming from overseas to pursue their artistic activities and take up residency in Yokohama. Preparation for the next Triennale in 2008 has already started. We hope that the coming Triennale will lead to another leap in our promotion for the Creative City Yokohama.

[April 1, 2007]