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Artists Open Doors: Japan/UK    
2. Policy and Practice Panel:

Shoji Shimomoto
Saori Mikami
Emma Gladstone
Christopher Thomson

Shoji Shimomoto is a director of the Environment Department of Creative Arts at the Japan Foundation for Regional Art Activities (JAFRA), which is known in Japanese as Chiiki Sozo. He is in charge of the Dankatsu programme for the promotion of contemporary dance in public halls. JAFRA was established to promote the development of Japanese regions rich in creative activity through the promotion of art and culture. Staff from regional government departments are seconded to JAFRA in Tokyo, typically for a two-year period, in which they receive training in the development of arts activities for a range of community and educational contexts. They often work closely with the network of ‘public halls’ which are cultural facilities which often include concert halls and theatres. There is a brief description in English of JAFRA at: www.performingarts.jp/E/society/0605/1.html

I want to begin this presentation by drawing your attention to a Japanese organisation, for whom I work, named Japan Foundation for Regional Art Activities (JAFRA), which links cultural and artistic activity with regional development. Founded in 1994 as a public service organisation, its purpose is to promote the arts and build creativity at a local level throughout Japan. Brought about by voices from local government organisations, JAFRA's first task was to identify and survey trends in cultural and artistic activity, region by region, so as to build understanding of the needs of the organisations working at grass roots level to support cultural and artistic development.

What emerged was that people are seeking spiritual and aesthetic enrichment of their lives, more so now than material affluence. Public halls and other local facilities are well-equipped to stage art events; the challenge to local arts organisations was to enrich the programming. Based on these findings, JAFRA devised a programme of support for regional cultural and artistic activity.

JAFRA has five objectives. Firstly, to champion the work of individuals who are active regionally in cultural and artistic activities. Secondly, to support initiatives that promote public use of arts centres and other public cultural facilities. Thirdly, to identify and foster the talents of emerging regional-based artists. Fourth, to stimulate the cultural infrastructure of a region by facilitating networks of arts and cultural organisations. And fifth, to remain abreast of regional planning that might impact on cultural and artistic activity.

From this overview of the history and aims of JAFRA, I will now describe in greater detail how its work is carried out. JAFRA is organised into distinct two divisions, one which distributes regional funding, and one run independently. Within that independent division, is the Public Culture Facility Activation Propulsion Enterprise (Kouritsu Bunka Shisetsu Kasseika Suishin Jigyou), which has strands for music, dance (including contemporary dance) and theatre.

The strand for contemporary dance, named Dankatsu (Koukyou Houru Gendai Dansu Kasseika Jigyou), grew on the model of a music strand, Onkatsu, which was established in 1998, four years after the founding of JAFRA. It will be important for the discussion that follows if I first explain something of the background against which Onkatsu was founded. Now in its eleventh year, Onkatsu is the largest programme within JAFRA and the most well-known, through its work with public theatres.

It came about as a consequence of the founding of many concert halls across Japan during the 1980s and 1990s. Concert halls had been built in regions that did not have a strong tradition of art and music. As a result, there were not the audiences to fill these new auditoriums. JAFRA responded to this audience development challenge by supporting young talented musicians to go out to, and perform, in the new regional venues. This was the beginning of Onkatsu.

However, the efforts of these young musicians would not alone guarantee boosted audiences figures and so JAFRA looked to models of community outreach in countries including the US. A reciprocal combination of outreach and performance work appeared effective in increasing arts participation. This became the framework of Onkatsu; support for both community participative projects and for public performances, in order to stimulate regional arts and audience development.

I can illustrate the work of Onkatsu by describing some of the activities it supports. For example, on a typical three-day programme, we run four sessions of concerts and schools' workshops on the first two days. On the third and final day, all the participants come together for a culminating performance in the concert hall. The success of such residencies and concerts relies on partnership with the concert hall management, school teachers and regional agencies. In summary, the objective of JAFRA's Onkatsu programme has been to seed activity in the new public concert halls through sustainable and close partnership with local people, cultivating prosperous communities in which music enriches lives and is within the reach of all. In its eleven year history, Onkatsu has worked with over two hundred organisations leading to concerts and creative workshops in diverse settings, including schools, hospitals and social welfare institutions.

Dankatsu, which I direct, was set-up in 2005 based on the Onkatsu model. Dankatsu has the same twinned approach and philosophy as Onkatsu; on the one hand, projects of exchange between artists and local communities, and on the other, public performances. Dankatsu has an additional objective of improving the effectiveness of regional dance administration, for example, by supporting schemes of professional training and development.

Through the Dankatsu programme, contemporary dance artists registered with JAFRA are invited to visit a particular region for a one-week residency of performances and workshops. Un Yamada, who performed yesterday, for example, is one of the registered artists (who are selected every two years). The residencies focus on facilitating exchange between the people of a region and the visiting artist, activity that we view as outreach. As part of our policy of professional development, staff from regional arts bodies will be seconded to Dankatsu's Tokyo offices for training seminars, before registered artists go out to their region. The remit of the training seminars is to equip individuals with the skills necessary to administer the programme.

Presently, around ten organisations work with Dankatsu. Representatives from each organisation join us in seminars and workshops to explore ways of communicating with local communities and with local theatre administration. JAFRA's support for Dankatsu consists predominantly in providing the finances to send registered artists to a region, along with, if required, performers or technical staff. However, JAFRA also provides experienced coordinators to assist in those regions that are less inexperienced in presenting a programme of dance performance.

As of 2008, thirty-seven organisations have participated in Dankatsu. During that time, there have been seventy-nine theatre workshops, attended by seven hundred and fifty participants, and a further ninety-five workshops in other settings, involving two thousand five hundred and forty six participants. The outreach settings have included a range of educational institutions, including primary and middle schools, and social welfare centres. Community dance groups working with approaches other than of contemporary dance, such as folk dance, have also participated in the outreach work.

Having given an introduction to the work of JAFRA and its Dankatsu strand, for the final section of my presentation, I turn to the relationship with cultural policy. Given JAFRA's close works with the regions, I will focus on regional cultural policy. In my experience, what is most important is to have constantly in mind that it is the regions who are our lead. Each region has its own characteristics in terms of history, people and industries. No two regions are ever alike. Correspondingly, cultural policy must be married to each region’s particularities. Our aim is to hear the voices of each region and to tailor activities individually, region by region.

In the Dankatsu programme, the people of a region consider what will be possible for their region in terms of performance activities, outreach, and workshops. Last year, for example, Dankatsu outreach took place at a primary school in one of the targeted regional cities. The city's mayor and head of education took considerable time out of their busy schedules to observe the children’s workshop in its entirety. From this, we learnt that the mayor and head of education were cultural leaders; this year, the theatre concerned benefitted from the addition of two new members of staff. As director of Dankatsu, I believe that, observing the workshop revealed to the mayor and head of education the benefits and importance of the arts

In ways such as this, JAFRA hopes to continue supporting each region’s cultural activities. JAFRA also surveys each region, investigating how a rich arts environment can be promoted. For example, we assess Shiteikanrishaseido, the administration of public halls to evaluate productivity, and feed back our findings to the regions. In this way, JAFRA's activities may also impact on the development of cultural policy in the regions.

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