National Policy on Promoting International Exchange in the Performing Arts
Mitsuhiro Yosimoto (NLI Research Institute)
Since 1990 there have been wide-reaching changes in Japan’s policy on international exchange in the performing arts. Since the foundation of the Japan Arts Fund in 1990, support for the performing arts, especially by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, has been greatly expanded. The New National Theatre, Tokyo, opened in 1997, and the government have actively worked to develop production and performance projects in the contemporary performing arts. The 2001 Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts set forth eight principles covering such matters as respect for the independence and creativity of artists and developing an environment in which Japanese citizens can appreciate, participate in, and create art. It also clarified the duties and responsibilities of the national and regional governments. In February 2007, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet established their “Basic Policy on the Promotion of Culture and the Arts” based on this Fundamental Law.
Further administrative and financial reforms led to the National Museum of Art and the National Museum, formerly managed by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, being restructured as independent institutions in April 2001. The Japan Arts Council and The Japan Foundation were also made into independent organizations in October 2003.
As a part of the drive to reduce the role of government, the 2003 changes in the Local Autonomy Law introduced the Designated Manager System. This meant that regional public facilities could be turned over to the private sector for management. This has resulted in the need for increased efficiency and transparency. Cultural policy and accountability are also emphasized.
Meanwhile the activities of art NPOs have begun to attract attention. 2,014 NPOs have been set up in the ten years since the NPO law was enacted in 1998 (as of September 2007, according to a survey by Arts NPO Link). These include intermediate-support NPOs that play an important role in supporting artistic cultural enterprises. In 2006, the National Diet passed three NPO Reform bills, making it much easier to establish a foundation or corporate entity, and the Diet is currently considering tax breaks. There are high expectations for private nonprofit and public organizations to play a major role in supporting performing arts in Japan.
- The Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Budget for Creative Activities
Ever since it was founded in 1968, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has performed a central role in deciding governmental cultural policy. The Agency’s policies are divided into two categories: preservation of cultural properties (preservation and use of historic ruins, protection of cultural properties, promotion of traditional performing arts, equipping and operating national cultural asset organizations); and the promotion of art and culture (Creative Plan of Culture and the Arts, promoting the performing arts, and operating national art museums, and so forth). For many years most of the budget was allocated to the preservation of cultural properties. However, since the Japan Arts Council was founded in 1990, the percentage of the overall budget allocated to the promotion of art and culture has steadily increased, and national governmental support for the performing arts has been improving.
Arts Plan 21, formulated in 1996, was the result of a radical reassessment of national support programs for the arts in terms of both budget and content. Approximately 2.2 billion yen has been earmarked for revitalizing creativity in the arts allocated primarily to Japan’s major arts organizations, participation in festivals and performances overseas, and sponsorship of international festivals in Japan.
Previous governmental support for the performing arts had been limited to filling in gaps in the budgets for individual public performances. Since a wide variety of institutions was eligible for funding, this approach was criticized for a lack of focus. Arts Plan 21 aimed to raise the standard of performing arts by identifying theater companies that served as driving forces in each field and supporting up to one-third of their annual performance expenses. In the first fiscal year, 15 companies received subsidies of up to 100 million yen each.
In FY2002, following the Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts enacted the previous year, Arts Plan 21 was revised into the Creative Plan of Culture and the Arts. This included a greatly increased budget of 12 billion yen, double that of the previous year. The new plan emphasized support for Japan’s leading art centers. Cultural centers and theaters that served as artistic bases for their region received funding covering up to one-third of their own productions and programs, with support to continue for three years.
In 2003, the budget of the Agency of Cultural Affairs exceeded 100 billion yen for the first time, but there has been little change since then in the level of support for the arts. While the priority is still on support for arts organizations and cultural facilities, the three-year support system ended in 2005. Support system shifted, with funds once more channeled into individual performances or projects rather than into organizations or facilities, the field of eligibility broadened, and the size of individual grants was reduced.
The current programs under the Creative Plan of Culture and the Arts are summarized in the table below.
The New National Theatre, Tokyo, opened in 1997, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this season (2007/2008). Events include productions by artistic directors Wakasugi Hiroshi (opera), Maki Asami (dance), and Uyama Hitoshi (drama). Ten operas are being produced (for a total of 49 performances), five ballets (26 performances), five contemporary dance programs (21 performances), and eight dramatic productions (117 performances). With their institutes to train young artists established in opera (1998), ballet (2001) and drama (2005), the New National Theatre, Tokyo is playing an important role in nurturing new talent in the performing arts.
- Promotion of International Cultural Exchange and the Role of The Japan Foundation
In recent years, both the Agency for Cultural Affairs and The Japan Foundation have been actively involved in international exchange, but it is The Japan Foundation that has assumed the leading role for many years. Ever since it was founded in 1972, it has taken on an exceptionally wide variety of international cultural exchange projects. The foundation has invited artists to Japan and sent Japanese artists overseas; promoted Japanese studies overseas; encouraged wider education of the Japanese language; sponsored performances, exhibitions, and international conferences; presented Japanese culture abroad; and boosted exchange with other Asian countries.
The foundation’s budget for FY2007 was 16.2 billion yen, 2.2 billion yen of which was earmarked for the promotion of cultural exchange. This covers six types of arts exchange programs with artists sent abroad and invited to Japan, international cooperation in cultural and artistic activities, community and youth exchanges, and exchanges in the arts and performing arts. Performing arts exchanges include full and partial funding of performances of Japanese companies abroad, and invitations for overseas artists to perform in Japan, international stage coproductions (both in Japan and overseas), sending performance companies and experts to international arts festivals, and collecting, sorting, and communicating information useful for international exchange in the performing arts.
Viewed over several years, the Agency for Cultural Affairs has a more generous budget for international exchange than The Japan Foundation, but even more important than the funding it provides is its establishment of overseas bases known as Japan Cultural Institutes or Japan Cultural Centers, currently located in 19 cities in 18 countries. These centers function as two-way gateways to artistic and cultural exchange between Japan and the rest of the world. In over 30 years of activity, The Japan Foundation has gained much that could not be obtained with mere financial support, including the expertise and networks cultivated at these overseas offices, providing information and opportunities for dialogue. They have truly been a valuable resource for Japan’s international exchange efforts.
The Japan Foundation became an independent organization in October 2003, undergoing a thorough institutional reorganization and operations restructuring. Now the expectations on them for more targeted actions are higher than ever.
- National Policy on Public Organizations and Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities Initiative
Local public organizations have played an important role in national policy for the regions. The peak, however, for arts and culture budgets in municipalities was reached in 1993 with a total of 955.5 billion yen, a figure that has been falling ever since. The total for 2007 was 398 billion yen. The background to this situation includes worsening finances and the mergers of towns and cities. Another factor is that localities have finished building the facilities they need and less construction work is going on.
During the 1990s there was a boom in theater and concert hall construction, with nearly 1,000 new facilities built during that decade—a rate of 100 per year. As of March 2006, there were 3,300 public theaters and halls (according to a study by Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities). Very few of these facilities, however, are actively involved in organizing their own productions and performances. One of the reasons for this is that they have only limited budgets for doing so. Another reason is that few facilities have specialized or experienced arts administrators in their management. With the recent introduction of the Designated Manager System, cultural facilities are increasingly required to operate more efficiently and continue cutting costs. With a very few exceptions, public theaters and halls are working under ruthless conditions.
In 1994, regional public organizations established the Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities initiative with the goal of boosting creativity locally thorough arts and culture enterprises. The foundation provides financial and other support and training programs in order to revitalize the cultural management of local governments.
The foundation’s budget for FY2007 was 2.7 billion yen, and about 45% of that—1.2 billion yen—was used to finance the promotion of creative and cultural arts activities by regional public organizations. It also established training programs for employees of local governments and arts centers. Since its foundation, more than 1,800 people have participated in the short-term intensive training program known as Stage Lab. This program has produced active, capable staff members for theaters and public halls all over Japan.
Other programs include networks allowing several public halls to collaborate on coproductions, performances by regional theater companies at the Tokyo International Arts Festival, outreach programs for contemporary dance and classical music, and other wide-ranging activities contributing to the revitalization of regional cultural facilities. Despite its small budget, the Foundation has provided an important boost to regional cultural facilities throughout Japan in line with the national policy.
Looking at the budget alone, Japan’s national policy for culture appears to be on a downturn. There is, however, more and more interest in international exchange in the performing arts. When arts organizations abroad wish to receive support from the Japanese government or public institutions for promoting exchange with Japan, the principal contact point is The Japan Foundation (overseas office). The foundation can link them to potential counterparts in Japan, while subsidies are available from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities, and others. Understanding this basic structure is an important first step to making good use of that framework. Further effective measures will include developing partnerships with regional art NPOs in order to collect data and create systems to bring projects to fruition, as well as obtaining funding from private corporations and regional public organizations. This we feel is the key to future active exchange between Japan and other countries.