Enhance presence of publicly funded Japan Art Academy through reforms

As long as the nation’s budget is being injected into an organization, it is natural for it to be under pressure to let the public understand the group’s activities and principles. It is vital to promote reform that responds to the changing times and enhance the significance of the organization’s existence.

A panel of experts from the Cultural Affairs Agency has compiled a draft reform plan for the Japan Art Academy. Pointing out that the organization has seldom gained recognition from society, the panel made a wide range of proposals regarding such issues as the selection of members and the content of the members’ activities.

The academy is a special body of the Cultural Affairs Agency with the aim of promoting Japanese arts, selecting artists with outstanding achievements as its members and giving them special treatment by providing them with pension benefits. It also is assigned to contribute to the development of the arts and offer opinions to the commissioner for cultural affairs.

There can be no more than 120 members, and its annual budget exceeds ¥500 million. However, as its activities focus mainly on awarding the Japan Art Academy prize and displaying works from its collection, for a long time there have been criticisms that the academy has lost its original purpose. It is said that throughout its history the academy has expressed its official opinion only twice.

It seems that the academy has been complacent with tradition and negligent in its efforts to reform its inward-looking and rigid organization.

The roots of the academy can be traced back to the Fine Arts Reviewing Committee, which was established at the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912). The Fine Arts Reviewing Committee was reorganized into the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in the Taisho era (1912-1926), and the precursor of the current academy was established in 1937.

Although more than 100 years have passed since the establishment of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, the organization has not caught up with the changing concepts of culture and the arts in the meantime.

The academy consists of three sections: fine arts; literature; and music, drama and dance. These three sections cover 16 categories, each of which has a fixed number of members. However, nearly half the members are in the section of fine arts, where excessive emphasis has obviously been placed.

Systematic reform has not been made since 2007 when kabuki and bunraku puppet theater became independent categories.

In the draft reform plan, the panel proposes the creation of new categories: photography and video; manga; and movies. It is reasonable to aim to create a balanced structure by incorporating people who have contributed to fields that have developed throughout and beyond the 20th century.

There are also many problems in selecting members. Currently, members of the relevant section recommend candidates and select members through voting in that section. The closed selection process has continued in a way that ignores the internal rules that say that, when deemed necessary, external opinions can be heard.

The draft reform plan proposes a method in which outside experts selected by the Cultural Affairs Agency and active members recommend candidates separately, narrow down the candidates through discussions, then select members by a vote of the relevant section.

The academy should be an organization in which its members are selected in a way that many people can understand and its activities are carried out in a visible manner.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 1, 2021.