A Collaboration of Cultures

By Guiomar Ochoa

Cameron and Sayo performing Picture by Ken Katsurayama.jpg

Japanese woman dancing in front of African-American man on state before audience in suit attire.

A performance by American choreographer and dancer, Cameron McKinney, with Japanese dancer, Sayo Honma, at the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan, on February 4, 2020. Photo by Ken Katsurayama

On February 4, 2020, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC) were featured guests of Joseph M. Young, charge d’affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America in Tokyo at a reception and press event. More than 200 people attended the event, which was held at the ambassador’s residence. We celebrated the U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship Program, a joint program of the Arts Endowment and the JUSFC. Attendees learned about five art projects created through the fellowship program that will be showcased at locations throughout Tokyo at the same time as the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is the first time since the program’s inception in 1978 that artists were selected as a U.S.-Japan pair to produce a completed work to present to the public.

Michael Orlove, director of State, Regional & Local Partnerships and International Activities at the National Endowment for the Arts and Paige Cottingham-Streater, executive director of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission provided remarks. The creative teams of American and Japanese artists who are developing each of the projects in this year’s program were in attendance.

A short and poignant performance by American choreographer and dancer Cameron McKinney with Japanese dancer Sayo Honma was definitely a highlight at the press conference! This summer, McKinney and Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki will produce an original contemporary dance work for a binational ensemble comprising performers from Shimazaki’s Dance Barbizon and McKinney’s Kizuna Dance. The dance piece will incorporate the personal stories of Japanese and American dancers, and portray the bonds of friendship and commonality of cultures. This work will be performed at Theater X.

The collaborative team of Gene Coleman (American) with Akikazu Nakamura and Sansuzu Tsuruzawa (Japanese) will combine Japanese martial arts with music, video, motion-sensor technologies, and other digital media. The team will use digital technologies to translate martial arts movements into sounds, which will then form a landscape over which musicians will play. This work will be performed at the Hitomi Memorial Hall at Showa Women’s University.

The American duo marksearch (Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas) will pair up with Japanese couple Natsuka Endo and Hiroyuki Abe to complete a project of poetic exploration that recognizes and honors survivors of the 2011 Fukushima disasters. Working out of a nomadic writing room, the team will collect haiku from community members to form a communal poetic message of hope. The writing room will include visual and audio installations of these haiku, with the goal to amplify the unheard voices of Fukushima’s youth. Their project will be on display at the Setagaya Art Museum.

Jesse Schlesinger, a visual artist from California, will collaborate with Japanese chef Masayo Funakoshi on a project that explores sustainability through the lens of food and agriculture presented within an architectural installation serving as a temporary, experimental, and functional restaurant. This collaborative project will also be available for viewing at the Setagaya Art Museum.

American muralist Benjamin Volta will work with Japanese visual artists and educators Cho Kuwakado and Yasuyuki Sakura to engage youth in the United States and Japan to create public artwork. The project draws inspiration from the accomplishments of distinguished Japanese and Americans in sports, science, and education. These accomplishments will inspire youth to create individual works of art that will make up the larger piece. The completed collaborative artwork will express how art, innovation, and sport have the power to change the world.

Seeing these five collaborations come to fruition is the true definition of cultural diplomacy and they clearly reflect the themes of this year’s Olympic Games; unity, collaboration, and the long-time friendship between the United States and Japan. I am so proud to be a part of this historic program!