Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Let us introduce “1 % for Art” into Japan’s Cultural Policy
NISHIKAWA Megumi  / Journalist

July 16, 2020
The novel coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the many challenges Japan faces, one of which is its cultural policy.

In late May, concerned parties from theatre, music, and cinema circles jointly filed a petition to the national government, requesting certain measures such as the creation of a fund to compensate for the economic losses incurred. The officer in charge at the Cultural Affairs Agency stated in response, “A Reconstruction Fund for Arts and Culture will be established in the Japan Arts Council (which comes under the Cultural Agency’s jurisdiction) to help raise private donations, but government money would not be injected into the fund”. A playwright who was present at the petition rebutted this by saying: “it would not really be a fund as it is meant only to raise and redistribute donations. We strongly request that this current predicament be addressed with an independent budget. We’d like our government to show, with its money, that it cares about culture”.

Responding to such strong voices from the arts and culture world, a total of 56 billion yen was allocated as the “Emergency Comprehensive Aid Package for Artistic and Cultural Activities” in the second supplementary budget that was approved by the National Diet in early June. Given that the losses caused by cancellations of various events and performances are said to amount to 690 billion yen by the end of this year, this can be seen as a fairly decent emergency rescue measure.

However, the Covid-19 issue has exposed Japan’s lack of principled approach to the role and place of culture in building national identity. European countries initiated measures to support artistic and cultural activities since the early stages of the pandemic. Germany, in particular, allocated 6 trillion yen out of fiscal measures amounting to approximately 90 trillion yen for supporting arts and culture. Monika Grutters, the Culture Minister stated, “Artists are now an indispensable existence for us to sustain our lives.” This remark caused quite a stir in Japan. The message that arts and culture give people the strength to live, particularly in difficult times, resonated well here.

To begin with, Japan is the 3rd largest economy in the world, but its budgets for arts and culture are a far cry from those of other developed nations. In 2017, the ratio of Japan’s culture budget to its national budget was 0.11%, in marked contrast to 0.16% in UK, 0.49% in German, 0.88% in France, and 1.05% in the Republic of Korea. In the same year, the per capita cultural budget in Japan was 819 yen, compared to 2824 yen in UK, 2634 yen in Germany, 7568 yen in France and 5597 yen in the Republic of Korea.

Since the beginning of this century, it has been argued repeatedly that Japan should free itself from the mantra of “economic growth first” and put culture at the center of the efforts to build its national identity. Following the enactment of the amended Basic Law on Art and Culture in 2018, the government finally steered away from the policy focused exclusively on “protecting culture” to the policy of “utilizing culture”. This shift of focus is partly due to the spreading realization that arts and culture can be an important driving force for tourism, one of Japan’s few growing industries. However, the mindset has not developed yet to the point of assigning a leading role to the government in promoting and utilizing arts and culture.

While the budgetary aid package may serve as an emergency bailout, I believe this is the time for the government to hammer out a drastic policy for promoting arts and culture, using the Covid-19 crisis as a springboard. As a part of the policy, I’d like to suggest the legislation of “1% for Art”. “Percent for Art” is a system where a percentage (ranging between 1% and 0.3%, depending on the country) of public building costs are allocated for arts and culture. It is a huge driving force for promoting arts and culture in the West.

Its root goes back to the United States at the time of the Great Depression in 1929. The US government commissioned artists who had lost their jobs to create works of public art to decorate public buildings and parks. This resulted not just in supporting the artists, but providing opportunities for a wide range of citizens to appreciate the arts. It is said to have contributed to the building of the identity of US culture. Since the 1950’s onwards, European countries such as France, and once again the US after a break during World War II, began adopting this system no longer as a measure to alleviate unemployment, but as a vehicle to promote arts and culture. Thus it played a significant role as an engine for promoting arts and culture, transforming them into a major industry in the respective countries.

Mr. Takenobu Igarashi, a former president of Tama Art University and a sculptor, was based in the US for about 10 years from the mid-90’s, and engaged in several projects related to “1% for Art” including the creation of public art inside a public hospital in San Francisco and the railings of a bridge in Los Angeles. Based on these experiences, he told me in my interview, “the workload of artists from the 1% for Art scheme is totally different from, for example, museums purchasing their artworks or galleries selling them. It especially helps young artists and generates enormous power in terms of support extended to artists, who utilize the opportunities to grow. The ripple effect is immense”.

The idea of spending 1% of public building costs, which come from public funds, for arts and culture may be debatable. However, this can be our strong message that we place arts and culture at the center of the efforts to build our national identity, and are tackling head on the task of building a nation truly devoted to arts and culture. Furthermore, it will lead to a change in the Japanese mindset from considering arts and culture as a personal activity to viewing them as a public good from a wider perspective.
Megumi Nishikawa is a Contributing Editor for the Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 7月 16日










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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Let us introduce “1 % for Art” into Japan’s Cultural Policy