The Development of Art Projects in Japan: Policy and Economic Perspectives

The Development of Art Projects in Japan: Policy and Economic Perspectives




As is discussed in the current and previous issues of this journal, the last two decades have seen a remarkable growth of socially engaged art and new public art in Japan. This paper will examine institutional factors, namely, cultural policy in Japan and the wider economic context in which it is located that have driven this development in art practice.  Before moving on to that, I would like to clarify two terms used in this paper, namely, ‘art project’ and ‘cultural policy,’ that are important to defining its scope.

Firstly, ‘art project’ is a term developed and used in the Japanese context as Kenji KAJIYA explains well in the previous issue of this journal (Kajiya 2017). Following Kajiya’s discussion, this paper takes the art project to refer mainly to art exhibitions, sometimes including performances, workshops, and other social practices, located outside museum galleries: in a variety of buildings which are no longer in use, or in the open air, both in urban areas and in the countryside. This spatial feature is often accompanied by participatory forms of project organization and implementation that involve not only arts professionals (artists, curators, and other arts managers) but also local citizens and audiences as well as volunteers and students. Kumakura et al (2014) argue that the essence of art projects lies in artistic collaboration among a variety of stakeholders. Other features of the art project include its focus not on the artistic object created but on the process of creation, which tends to be mostly managed by the artist but is often spontaneous and accidental because of its interactive and dialogical nature. Like socially engaged art in the West in which artists are often activists with strong agendas and political/social messages to express (Helguera 2015, p.140), Japanese art projects may well address social issues, but tend to engage with them for the purposes of inclusion and well-being rather than taking on the causes of the problems and pursuing an adversarial approach to them (Kajiya 2017).

The second term, ‘cultural policy,’ is one that may not sit comfortably in the English language discourse, particularly in the U.S. context where the term ‘arts policy’ and ‘arts funding’ may be more common. Cultural policy however has been used in academic research and increasingly in wider policy discourse to refer to a set of explicit and implicit actions (and inactions) of governments and other actors aimed to promote certain cultural practices and values. In concrete terms, cultural policy ostensibly aims to encourage the development of creative activities and to preserve historical heritage and the cultural landscape.  It also seeks to disseminate the products of creative/cultural activities and to encourage the consumption of creative products by the widest public possible. The means to achieve such purposes include financial, human, and informational resources, as well as law and regulation (as in the areas of broadcasting and heritage preservation).

With these definitions of the terms used in this paper, the next section will describe the basic features of cultural policy in Japan, followed by its development since the late 1990s, which has laid the ground for art projects in the succeeding decades. Next, section 4 will discuss more recent trends that have pushed the development of art projects, such policies of urban development and rural regeneration. Section 5 will raise policy issues that remain to be resolved if art projects are to develop further.

Basics of Cultural Policy in Japan

The most important summary point for understanding cultural policy in Japan is that it has been very limited in scale.  Until the early 1990s, government had very little interest in cultural matters, letting the arts and culture operate almost entirely within the market economy. In developed nations outside Japan, both arts and culture programming and infrastructure such as museums and theaters are publicly supported because they cannot survive in the market alone; their non-economic, publicly desirable values—cultural, educational, or social—cannot be fully assessed in the market, so government intervention is required. To take one example to illustrate, available evidence shows that in the late 1980s reliance on earned income for theater companies in Japan was more than 90%, whereas the figures in the U.S. and the U.K. were about 60% and 50% respectively (Yoshimoto, 2008, p.47).[1]

Cultural heritage and properties of historic importance also receive governmental support because their preservation for future generations is also something that cannot be achieved by the market economy, but even this line of thinking has been relatively weak in Japanese policy- making in the post-1945 era. It is not that Japanese people disregard the importance of arts and culture or have no interest in them, but such activities (especially ongoing artistic creation), have never been considered high priorities for the state. They have long been considered to be the personal hobbies of those involved in creation or in consumption, with little significance to society at large.

What lies in the background to this governmental indifference to the cultural sector is the national preoccupation with economic development, first and foremost: to raise the standard of living for citizens by increasing the national wealth, and to build the necessary infrastructure for transport, energy production and transmission, communications, and much more. Building cultural infrastructure was acceptable, but support for the artistic and cultural activities that actually give life to the infrastructure was never high on the agenda of policy-makers.  Standard of living, which has been understood to mean material conditions rather than personal happiness and well-being, may have been an important policy goal, but quality of life, as something distinct from it, began to receive attention only in the 1980s in Japan, when the country acquired confidence and satisfaction with its economic achievements.

The main actor in cultural policy in the public sector has been the Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA; Bunkachō), a ministerial department within the Ministry of Education (currently the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), which was created at the national level in 1968. Its 2017 budget of about 100 billion yen—0.11 per cent of total public spending—is quite small compared to other developed countries. International comparison of such data is tricky because what is included in the relevant figures for each country differs widely (Kawashima 1995), but even a cursory survey suggests that the Japanese level is well below that of European nations (e.g. 0.87 per cent for France) and of South Korea (0.99 per cent) in 2015 (ACA 2017).[2] The largest part of Japan’s ACA budget (about 45%) goes to the preservation of national heritage, followed by maintenance of national institutions of culture (30%) such as the National Theaters and National Museums,[3] and its area of responsibility also includes language and copyright as well as support for the arts and culture more generally. Its budget has increased in the early 2000s and stayed constant since then, a surprise considering the difficulty of the Japanese economy in the last twenty years and the fiscal restraint exercised by the Treasury.  Nonetheless, less than a quarter of that budget is available to support contemporary cultural activities outside of national institutions.

The national-level, however, is only part of the picture.  At the local level, spending designated for cultural policy as an aggregate of all prefectural and municipal governments surpasses that of ACA. Local spending, however, has declined steadily since the late 1990s: at its peak in 1994/5 local government spending on culture totaled 955 billion yen, but that fell to 340 billion yen in 2010/11 (ACA 2015, p.23). Importantly, this figure includes all kinds of cultural spending: preservation and conservation of cultural properties, new capital projects and facility maintenance, programming for facilities run by local authorities, and support for cultural activities of various kinds. This list is in order of priority: artistic and cultural production and programming is the very lowest priority in local government spending on arts and culture. The investment into facility development (e.g., concert halls, theaters, and museums financed by local authorities) rose drastically in the 1980s and 1990s. Such facilities numbered about 800 in the late 1970s, but increased to almost 1,800 in the next ten years and again to 3,200 by the end of the 1990s—four times the number from 20 years earlier (JAFRA 2008, p.9). The investment was made possible largely by local bonds issued by local authorities, which were generously subsidized by the central government, a system that was in place between 1978 and 2001 (Yoshimoto 2008, p.53).

What has declined most in local arts and culture spending since the mid-1990s is the expenditure for new buildings as few saw a need for them in the midst of the economic downturn. But maintenance expenses for this infrastructure remains constant. Spending on cultural production and programming has increased from around 50 billion yen in the late 1990s to about 60 billion yen in the 2010s (ACA 2017, p.26), yet remains a relatively small portion of the local cultural spending.  A survey of all local authorities in Japan conducted in 2014 (JAFRA 2015, p.88) shows that expenditure for the arts and culture averaged about 55 million yen (for the responding 1,479 local authorities out of about 1,700 existing authorities), whereas the average expenditure for the maintenance of cultural facilities was 158 million yen (for the responding 1,309 authorities), while the average capital project expenditure on new cultural facilities was 63 million yen (for the responding 1,086 authorities).[4]

Development of Cultural Policy

I now move on to discuss cultural policy changes of the last two to three decades in relation to the rise of art projects in Japan. The art historical background to that rise has already been addressed by Kajiya (2017), Tomii (2017), Favell (2017), and Jesty (2017); the present paper will point out the institutional and policy factors that have promoted the development, including a new policy direction of utilizing cultural policy for non-artistic purposes, a policy emphasis on building relationships with audiences—particularly as is now required for museums and other institutions of culture, and the development of non-profit organizations in Japan.

As outlined above, cultural policy in Japan has always been a low-profile area and has suffered from having a weak overall foundation. Cultural policy discourse has thus historically resorted to claims that ‘investment’ in culture contributes to a variety of causes: national prestige in the international community, generation of employment, attraction of visitors, uniting people and communities, social inclusion, and regeneration of urban and rural communities. In fact, justifications of this kind for cultural policy are not unique to Japan or to the present moment; precedents are to be found in many countries, regions, and cities in the world.

One of the most popular justifications for cultural policy has been the claim of the economic importance of the cultural sector and the cost effectiveness of public investment in the arts and culture. In the early decades after WWII, cultural policy was generally more concerned with the reconstruction of national identity and the democratization of culture, but with the arrival of Thatcherism (U.K.) and Reaganomics (U.S.), which emphasized the supremacy of the market economy and minimized governmental interventions, cultural policy has also shifted to market-based justifications. This trend was seen first in the Anglophone countries, but was followed in Northern, Western, and Eastern Europe alike.[5] One prominent feature in this policy trend has been to use cultural institutions and large events (like arts festivals) for the purpose of redeveloping urban areas that have suffered from economic declines. Notable examples include Glasgow, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Montpelier in Western Europe, as well as Baltimore and Providence in the US, and many more (Bianchini and Parkinson [eds], 1993; Grodach and Loukaitou-Sideris 2007).

Many reports have been published (e.g. Myerscough 1988, is one of the first of its kind in Britain) that cite the number of new jobs created and estimate the increase in consumer/visitor spending in the areas redeveloped by the promotion of culture (on the opening of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, for instance, see Plaza 2006) wherein the aggregates of such ‘multiplier’ effects exceeds the amounts of public money used to fund the facilities and events. In this way the use of culture for urban (re-)development has seen a phenomenal rise over the last three decades in many parts of the developed world, a phenomenon documented and critiqued in the literatures on cultural policy, urban planning, and local/regional economy studies.[6] Countless former centers of manufacturing have invested in culture and the arts, in the belief that they can help reinvent the cities as centers of service-led or intellectual property-intensive economies. The understanding that culturally vibrant cities tend to enjoy relatively higher economic growth, put forward by the academic geographer-cum-consultant Richard Florida (2002), has also been a major influence on local and regional governments struggling to revitalize their economies.

In Japan as well, culture has appeared more prominently in plans for urban development over the past two to three decades, but with some differences. One difference has been that in the 1990s, when local government spending for the arts and culture was rising, the economic impact of the arts and culture was not very high on agenda. Capital projects to build flagship cultural facilities were implemented largely because local authorities could afford them thanks to the economic prosperity of the country and the nationally-supported bond-issuing scheme mentioned above.

Estimates of economic effects were not decisive and were not undertaken rigorously. One good example in the area of contemporary art is Art Tower Mito (ATM), which houses a contemporary art gallery as well as a concert hall, and was widely reported when it opened in 1988, firstly because of its stunning architecture designed by Arata ISOZAKI. More importantly, ATM attracted media attention because it had the city’s pledge to allocate one percent of its expenditure to this facility alone, a relatively high commitment for a local cultural policy. ATM also stood out for its introduction of Western practices of professional arts management such as the appointment of an Artistic Director (who would oversee the whole artistic programming of ATM, as opposed to a Managing Director) and a resident chamber orchestra.

In these innovations, however, ATM is exceptional.  The majority of capital projects supported by local cultural policies focused solely on the construction of new buildings, with little regard to what should go into the newly-built facilities, little thinking about their economic impact or sustainability, and little discussion of what values or benefits they might have for local citizens. Without any incentive to develop concrete aims for cultural policy, there was little reason for local governments to be more active in this area of public policy.

The mushrooming of expensive flagship facilities with little planning about how to make good use of them came to be the target of criticism from many quarters in the late 1990s. This is also something unique to Japan’s recent history, which affects policy discussions to the present day. In the West, criticism has been leveled at the methodological flaws of studies that estimate the multiplier economic effects of arts and culture investment (e.g. Hansen 1995) and claims about the social impact of the arts (e.g., Belfiore, 2002). In contrast, commentators in Japan (too numerous to be documented here) have argued that despite the first-class facilities that each city and village was able to build, funding was insufficient for programming at those venues, and inadequate to supporting artists who create the works in the first place. The lack of programming capacity is so total that in many cases, theaters and concert halls have had only technical and administrative staff but no arts managers with expertise in programming, marketing, or developing new audiences, resulting in empty concert halls and theaters, and museums with few visitors. In sum, the problem has been and remains an overall insufficiency of public funding for creative activities, including those in contemporary art, and a lack of a strong relationship between publicly-run cultural organizations and the communities they are supposed to serve.

Since the 1990s, however, thinking in and about cultural policy has seen a number of developments. One major development is that cultural policy is now positioned in connection with other public policy areas such as education, health, welfare, local revitalization, tourism, and technological innovation. Above, I discussed the universally weak justification for cultural policy for the sake of arts and culture in and of themselves, and the recent tendency for such policy justifications to depend on economic impact arguments.  This trend can be seen in Japan as well in current policy discourse: a wide variety of ‘other aims’ of cultural policy are employed to justify public expenditure, such as the potential of culture to contribute to national branding, inbound tourism, community development, business innovation, and social inclusion. While cultural policy researchers in Europe have been cautious about this kind of discourse (see Belfiore 2002), mainly because it can lead to privileging only the kind of culture that serves such instrumental values, their Japanese counterparts are generally more positive.  The optimism stems from the fact that, as cultural policy has claimed to make such contributions, its role has been recognized at higher levels of government (see, e.g., Agency for Cultural Affairs 4th Basic Policy, approved of and endorsed by the Cabinet in 2015).[7] The ‘status’ of cultural policy will probably rise even further towards the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be held in Tokyo in 2020. It can be argued that cultural policy conceived in this way is no longer a ghettoized area of public policy but an expansive and growing one.  Japan’s art projects developed in parallel to this policy development, and have arguably been a beneficiary in this context, receiving attention particularly from local authorities who try to integrate cultural policy within a larger framework of city/community development.

Another change in cultural policy in Japan since the late 1990s can be seen in its practice, namely, in the increased emphasis on cultural management, which follows what has been advocated and recommended by researchers in cultural economics, cultural policy, and arts management studies. As mentioned, cultural facilities established and run by local authorities across the country have tended to lack expertise in programming. University courses and departments for arts management as well as private and public initiatives of various kinds have proliferated to address this problem by providing training to managers of cultural facilities who need to develop skills in programming and in connecting with local communities.  One significant development in this area was the establishment of the Japan Foundation for Regional Art-Activities (JAFRA) in 1994, a semi-public body under the then-Ministry for Local Government, to help support the development of arts management practices at the regional and local level.  It has since organized training courses, seminars, and events particularly for managers in public facilities for the arts and executives in local governments. The topics dealt with in these courses were not just managerial and practical issues, but included introduction to artistic productions so that managers could share the views and experiences of artists (albeit in a small way).  JAFRA has also funded programs to send artists, arts groups, and facilitators to local communities in order to develop audiences and to form initiatives to preserve folk art. New arts managers, who voluntarily chose to participate in training courses, tend to be more interested in contemporary trends in art and more inclined to support art projects than their predecessors, who were simply transferred into positions from other areas of local government (e.g. education, social welfare, etc.).  Some of them have become managers of art projects themselves.

Likewise corporate support for the arts and culture, which used to be mainly for well-established art forms and activities, such as concerts of Western classical music and painting and sculpture exhibitions, has paid more attention to grassroots creative activities, experimental and exploratory practices in art, and has shown increased interest in artistic activities that engage with audiences in innovative ways. One chapter of the book whose title could be translated as “Art Project—Towards a Co-Creative Society” edited by Kumakura et al (2014) is dedicated to corporate support, recording the discussion between the editors and two representatives from the corporate sector, both of whom have been pioneers in corporate involvement with art projects. Representing Asahi Breweries and Chishima Real Estate respectively, they highlight the possibility of cultural democratization in community-based art projects and identify a number of positive outcomes such as the enhancement of ‘social capital’ (à la Putnum), not easily achievable in other ways (Kumakura et al, 2014, Chapter 7). The publishing company Benesse Holdings has been another major sponsor of art projects. Benesse’s former CEO, Sōichirō FUKUTAKE, has underwritten the development of Naoshima and other islands in the Inland Sea (collectively called Benesse Art Site Naoshima) and has made a long-term commitment to support the Setouchi Art Triennale which started in 2010.

The changing role and mission of museums and other cultural institutions can also be pointed out as a contributor to the development of art projects. As cultural policy in Japan has developed in the 21st century, with younger generations of arts managers active in many places, new areas of activities such as outreach, arts education, and workshops have started to become popular. Cultural funding in Japan is never abundant, but there are occasionally small pots of money in the public and private sectors earmarked specifically for these projects. For example, at the national level, while the major funding responsibility for museums lies with the Ministry for Education, Science, and Technology (and local authorities), the Agency for Cultural Affairs has started to offer project-funding on a competitive basis for art and history museums. One of the funds, initiated in 2014, aims to enhance the function of museums as regional hubs for cultural activities,[8] something which led a significant number of museums to form partnerships with local art projects in order to access that additional funding (e.g. Towada Oirase Art Project connecting with the Towada Art Center and Chikugo Art Pot 2017 supported by the Kyushu-Geibun-Kan).

According to Motohiro KOIZUMI (2010, p.42), Japanese museums were traditionally oriented around finished products of artistic creation and their audience programs remained within that boundary, emphasizing the transmission of knowledge about the arts. Yayoi YOSHIZAWA (2011) interprets things in a slightly different way: art projects are activities of people finding the arts in their everyday lives rather than the arts breaking the boundaries of museum buildings into communities. Either way, there was a call, perhaps an unconscious one, for museums and local communities to meet outside the museum facilities. Irrespective of the explicit and implicit concerns of these sociologists, it is clear that the model of one-way delivery of established culture from professional artists to audiences/citizens is no longer considered satisfactory; the thinking that cultural and artistic creation needs to be collaborative, which is the very ethos of art projects, is more fashionable.

Another major change in Japan in the late 1990s is the enactment of new legislation for the Promotion of Specified Nonprofit Activities in 1998. Prior to this law, the Japanese legal system had long made it extremely difficult for non-commercial civic and voluntary activities to obtain corporate legal status. The 1998 law changed that situation after a long period of policy debate, making Non-Profit Organization accessible for grassroots associations (see Kawashima 2011 for the emergence of the NPO sector in Japan). It must be noted that nonprofits in Japan are not necessarily equivalent to American ones in terms of scale; scope of activities undertaken; number of volunteers, staff, and professionals involved; financial and human resources, and sophistication of governance and management. Charitable contributions in the U.S. to NPOs are equivalent to 2% of the national GDP, whereas the equivalent figure in Japan is only 0.18%.[9] Whereas NPOs in the US are well over 1.2 million in number across the country, those registered as Not-for Profit Corporations under the law in Japan numbered only about 51,600 in 2017 (Cabinet Office, website),[10] although there are more under different corporation law, as well as many more unincorporated societies and civic groups. Although the non-profit sector is still small, Japanese NPOs can and actually do carry out a range of experimental projects that precede government’s action and are good at catering to specific needs and demands of diverse communities of people. This legal context and the general recognition for voluntary activities nurtured by the law has prepared the social and administrative climate in which art projects can flourish.

Recent Socio-Economic Trends in Japan

While what I have described above represents what I take to be positive developments in cultural policy and management, Japanese society in the last twenty years has been in a dire state. An aging population, the long downturn in the economy, industrial hollowing-out, casualization of the workforce, abandonment of houses, shops, forests, and farms have all led to the decline of communities outside of the main metropolitan areas. This poses a big challenge to local authorities, which have been made more independent in recent years than they were previously. Modern Japan has a highly unified public administration with a strong tradition of centralism (as opposed to a federal system). Taxing authority is also highly centralized. That has made local authorities dependent on the central government for revenues and for policies to implement with those revenues. The structure of dependency has been reduced since the 2000s with a variety of public administration reforms, the most significant of which has been a tax reform to transfer some tax revenue sources to local authorities in exchange for reducing state subsidies to them. With these changes, local authorities have become more self-directed in generating revenue, the goal being to encourage local governments to be more efficient, productive, and entrepreneurial in taxing and spending, and more proactive in thinking about long-term policy.

Many cities and local areas that are losing population, jobs, and tax revenues have been desperate to regenerate themselves, but have learned that trying to invite manufacturing is no longer effective given that the economic structure of Japan is becoming more service-led and more oriented to high value-added industries. The theory and examples of Creative City,[11] initiated by Charles Landry and extended by the aforementioned academic, Richard Florida, have been introduced to government officials in Japan by Masayuki SASAKI (2007), as an idea for rejuvenating cities with hollowing out centers and high streets with rows of closed shops. The theory of Creative City is not necessarily about art projects or contemporary art. However, it emphasizes the involvement and initiative of local community people and their creativity, and thus has drawn the attention of policy-makers in government.  Art projects with key words such as ‘collaborative,’ ‘self-directed,’ and ‘creative solution,’ fit the discourse of Creative City perfectly, as well as the discourse surrounding the move towards greater regional autonomy.

It is not that policy-makers understand and fully appreciate the value of culture, but it now looks to them that art projects have some potential to save their areas. Art projects are generally less expensive than the previous expenses for cultural facilities.[12]  They can attract outside funders and sponsors, in which case local authorities need not bear the total cost. Furthermore, while funding earmarked for the arts in itself is insufficient, that for local regeneration is available to the extent that the arts may be involved. For example, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, one of the largest and most successful art projects, has been funded in large part by Niigata Prefecture and smaller local authorities within the prefecture, drawing on their budgets for local revitalization purposes. The public funds supporting the Triennale for the first five festivals, staged between 2000 and 2012, totaled 9.4 billion yen; pouring funds into the Triennale was justified on the ground that the festivals would bring artists, local citizens, and visitors together in the local communities and could help the most pressing issues of the region, namely, its remoteness, dependence on farming, and aging population (Sawamura ed, 2014, Chapters 1 and 2). Policy-making in this area still lacks rigor, as it does not scientifically assess actual economic or social effects. Some of the visionary leaders of art projects have actually taken advantage of this to persuade policy-makers that they can help revitalize communities.

Nonprofits that have increased in number and become more prominent in public policy discourse have also been helpful to the implementation of art projects. Art projects are generally low-profile (compared to flagship facilities and mega events), and they are time- and labor-intensive, involving communication and collaboration between artists and local people unfamiliar with contemporary art. When formed as nonprofit corporations, art projects are often convenient for government’s bureaucracy in proceeding with rural and local regeneration, as the projects often cross over into different departments of the government to achieve their aims that are social, artistic, and economic at the same time.

Future Issues

So is this all good news for the continuing vitality of art projects in Japan?  The remaining part of this paper will address some major challenges that remain, including the problem of funding and its impact on art projects, and the problem of systematic policy evaluation schemes instituted in developed countries, including Japan.

Although I have identified the availability of public funds for non-art purposes as a factor that contributed to the development of art projects in Japan, it does not necessarily mean that art projects are well-funded. In practice, they struggle with funding and tend to rely on multiple sources. For example, the Beppu Project, a well-known art project, draws on funds from local authorities and from multiple ministries of the central government across a number of categories, such as social welfare, education, tourism and so on. Managers of such projects need to be fully aware of where funding opportunities are and be able to frame their projects according to the aims and specifications of the calls coming from different directions. The circumstances create a danger that they will lose their visions and principal aims while navigating this complexity, something common to NPOs of all kinds. It is also costly to respond to the demands of funders for reporting and accounting in different formats at different stages of project development. While the only solution to the above issue may be for project organizers to have articulated aims and strategies and firmly reject the opportunities that do not fit them, there is a concern that by receiving public funds, art projects may become more and more instrumentally oriented and their distinctiveness may be compromised.

The second challenge for art projects is related to policy evaluation. Government policies nowadays are driven by the results of cost-benefit analyses into the public services they provide. New public management approaches that have developed since the 2000s require enhanced accountability. Accordingly, policies must now demonstrate the benefits derived from inputs as quantitatively as possible (see Selwood 2002 for a critique of this policy trend in the U.K.). This mandate has been a thorny issue for cultural policy as a whole. Cultural products and services are often intangible and not immediately amenable to hard, quantitative measurement. Outcomes (e.g., enhanced national brand values) as opposed to outputs (e.g., attendance figures in art festivals) may become visible only decades later, and the causal relationship may be extremely difficult to establish.

Art projects in particular could be hard hit by this trend, as the purposes of the participatory art projects are often multiple, encompassing artistic, economic, and social aims, none of which are achievable in a short period of time.  Many of these purposes are difficult to measure: one may be impressed that local people have been invigorated by art projects, developing new perspectives towards their home towns endowed with natural and other resources. There is some evidence to suggest that the more engaged people are in an art project the more social capital, social bonding, and mutual trust they accumulate (e.g., Sawamura ed, 2014, Chapters 4 and 5).

This is patchy, though, and would be insufficient to satisfy policy demands for reliable data. We also need to be aware that not all the arts involved in art projects are to have these effects, nor do they aim to.  Some arts may well divide people by confronting them with controversial issues that they have kept out of public for some time. There is a widespread criticism that art projects in Japan tend only to be celebratory and apolitical, taking the form of carnivals, parades, and other outdoor events (see Matarasso 2013, p.16, referring to the depoliticisation of community art in Britain for a parallel argument). Provocative, politically-radical, and confrontational art may well be avoided by those art producers, curators, and project managers who are inclined to invite those that fit the purposes of local regeneration, something which might compromise aesthetic quality (Koizumi 2010).


This paper has examined the policy and economic backgrounds to the rise of art projects in Japan over the last two to three decades. Basic features of cultural policy in Japan include its historically weak justification and foundation, and limited public expenditure. In contrast to the large amount of money that has gone into the building and maintenance of cultural facilities across the nation in the 1990s, funds for cultural and artistic activities have been insufficient, particularly for contemporary art.  Support for art projects has (recently) developed because it can fit the purpose of local authorities in their search for an effective means to drive economic and community regeneration, and also because the projects do not cost much and can be one- offs.  Businesses with corporate citizenship programs, too, have become interested in the inclusive features of art projects and extended their support.  The paper has also touched upon the changing roles expected of museums: they are under pressure to reach out into communities and become more like cultural facilitators to help nurture creativity among citizens rather than just being shrines to beauty that wait for audiences to come. The development of the nonprofit sector and new generations of arts managers have helped to lay the ground for art projects, too.

The paper has also raised challenges for the future of art projects, particularly whether they can sustain their original purposes and artistic missions. Cultural policy in Japan is becoming increasingly expansive, as it is elsewhere (Throsby, 2010), encompassing instrumental purposes such as economic development, tourism, and social inclusion. It can be an opportunity that art project organizers can take advantage of but there is also a danger of becoming trapped in the funders’ aims. This is an acute issue considering that in the current managerialism of public policy, policy programs are required to demonstrate their achievements in light of the stated purposes and intended outcomes.

At this juncture, it is instructive to refer to Hooper-Greenhill, an academic specialist in museum education, as her comments have relevance to the present paper: ‘Culture is not an autonomous realm of words, things, beliefs and values.  It is not an objective body of facts to be transmitted to passive receivers. It is lived and experienced; it is about producing representations, creating versions, taking a position, and arguing a point of view’ (Hooper-Greenhill 2000: 19). It is unknown if art projects can live up to this expectation, or if museums will keep striving to reach out to local communities without public funds for that purpose, or if such a vision, assuming that it reflects their ethos, will be understood and shared by policy-makers in the near future in Japan, against all the odds that the trend towards managerialism in public policy and management will continue.

Kawashima Nobuko is professor in the Department of Economics, Doshisha University in Kyoto. Her areas of interest include cultural policy, cultural economics, and cultural industries. She has served as President of the Japan Association for Cultural Economics, and internationally, on the Scientific Committee of the International Conference on Cultural Policy Research.


1. The rest of the revenues were a mixture of public grants, support from corporations and foundations, and private donations.

2. For France, it refers to the budget of the Ministry for Culture and Communication, and for South Korea, it refers to the budget for the arts and culture within the Ministry for Sport, Culture and Tourism and the budget for ‘culture, tourism and others’ within the Agency for Cultural Properties.  This comparison is for suggestive purposes only, as there are a number of factors that prevent accurate comparison: the variety in the responsibilities of these ministries and departments, the varying significance of local government’s spending for cultural policy between countries, and foreign exchange rates.

3. For the fiscal year 2017/8.

4. Those local authorities returning the questionnaire without facilities or without plans to build new ones, did not respond to the related questions.

5. Here I am generalizing a trend and its justifications that in reality varies among countries. It also only includes the regions in the world that have been substantially discussed in the cultural policy literature so far. Note that to aggregate the U.S. and Europe can be misleading, as direct support for arts and culture by the government in the U.S. is very limited, although it finances them through tax incentives for private contributions.

6. Special issues on this topic have appeared in the International Journal of Cultural Policy (10/2, 2004), Local Economy (19/4, 2004) and Urban Studies (42/5-6, 2005).

7. Basic Policy on the Promotion of Culture and the Arts—4th Basic Policy, available from the website of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. (accessed 24 July 2017).

8. As an example, Hanamaki City (in the northern prefecture of Iwate) received this grant to host a ‘museum/gallery in the neighbourhood’ project, inviting contemporary artists and crafts people to present their works in streets, shops and houses.

9. The Japanese figure includes donations ones to both central and local governments, which are tax-deductible. accessed 17 (accessed July 2017).

10. (accessed 17 July  2017).

11. The Agency for Cultural Affairs has started to promote the movement of Creative Cities, awarding several best practices each year. It also supports Creative City Network of Japan, an NPO that promotes networking of cities with strong cultural policy initiatives (see the website of the Agency for Cultural Affairs). (In Japanese, accessed July 21, 2017).

12. Information on art project finance is scarce.  Anecdotally, a director of an art project that was part of the Aichi Triennale says in a discussion recorded in Kumakura et al (2014, p.160) that the one in 2010 cost about 25 million yen for art production, 15 million yen for venues, and an unspecified amounts for public relations and human resources. This was five times as much as that of 2009.


Agency for Cultural Affairs (2017) Chihou ni okeru Bunka Gyosei no jyokyo ni tuite (Report on Cultural Administration of Local Authorities), Agency for Cultural Affairs (in Japanese).

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