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Common Ground

Common Ground: The Japanese American National Museum and the Culture of Collaborations

Akemi Kikumura-Yano
Lane Ryo Hirabayashi
James A. Hirabayashi
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Common Ground
    Book Description:

    Los Angeles's Japanese American National Museum, established in 1992, remains the only museum in the United States expressly dedicated to sharing the story of Americans of Japanese ancestry. The National Museum is a unique institution that operates in collaboration with other institutions, museums, researchers, audiences, and funders. In this collection of seventeen essays, anthropologists, art historians, museum curators, writers, designers, and historians provide case studies exploring collaboration with community-oriented partners in order to document, interpret, and present their histories and experiences and provide a new understanding of what museums can and should be in the United States. Current scholarship in museum studies is generally limited to interpretations by scholars and curators. Common Ground brings descriptive data to the intellectual canon and illustrates how museum institutions must be transformed and recreated to suit the needs of the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-860-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Akemi Kikumura-Yano, Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and James A. Hirabayashi
  4. Introduction: Commitment to Community
    (pp. 1-12)
    Irene Y. Hirano

    The opening of the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) in May 1992 was significant not only for the 850,000 Japanese Americans in the United States but for Americans of every ethnicity. The National Museum shares with visitors a unique cultural experience while serving as a sober reminder that one part of that history—the World War II incarceration—must never happen again. By placing the Japanese American experience within the context of America’s history and by working to improve the understanding and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity, the National Museum has striven to serve and enrich a global...

  5. Part I The National Museum:: Mission, Leadership, and Audience

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 13-16)

      The chapters in this section provide a background for the National Museum, especially in regard to its organizational and programmatic foundation. The National Museum was initially conceptualized as a place where Japanese Americans would be able to present their own history in their own words and ways. Since exhibitions are one of the major products of museums, we begin this section with a chapter by Clement Hanami that discusses the dynamic and fluid processes of self-creation and discovery involved in the development of Common Ground: The Heart of Community, the core exhibition of the National Museum.

      Hanami’s chapter is followed...

    • 1 Self-Creation: Defining Cultural Identity Within Museum Exhibitions
      (pp. 17-24)
      Clement Hanami

      In the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is a re-creation of a Japanese American concentration camp barrack within the exhibition A More Perfect Union. It is an interesting structure in that it attempts to accurately replicate a barrack environment with handmade furniture and dusty cots, down to the rough-sawed wood and minimal barrack architecture. On the far side of the room is an open door through which one can see out to what appears to be an outdoor environment, blue sky above dry desert ground. Blending in, the scene almost goes unnoticed until...

    • 2 Home Movies: Cultural Recovery and the Value of Display
      (pp. 25-42)
      Karen L. Ishizuka

      If personal passion for “oldies but goodies” and civic preference for parking lots over historic preservation are any indication, in the United States Americans are more interested in nostalgia and expedience than in history. Perhaps this is because the United States, in comparison with other countries, is too young to have enough history to care sufficiently about and, therefore, too immature to understand how its present came to be. John Kuo Wei Tchen recalls that Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong, in a 1944 visit to the United States, noted that this country’s major problem is that it is a “land without...

    • 3 Creating Community One Voice at a Time: Traveling Exhibition Programs That Help Create Community
      (pp. 43-50)
      Cayleen Nakamura

      From its inception, the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) has been committed to sharing the Japanese American experience as a uniquely American institution with local, national, and international audiences. The Japanese American community is defined in broad terms as the culmination of many individual stories and histories. Although significant populations of Japanese Americans reside in certain cities in the United States, particularly on the West Coast and in Hawai‘i, their forced dispersal during World War II has made this population a community without geographic boundaries.

      Common issues of identity, cultural traditions, language, and life experiences are shared whether one...

    • 4 Expanding the Museum Audience Through Visitor Research
      (pp. 51-64)
      Carol M. Komatsuka

      If listening is one of the keys to a successful relationship, the practice of companies listening to their customers and museums listening to their members, donors, and visitors is the first step toward a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship.

      Before joining the staff of the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum), I had a long career at a national financial institution that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on consumer research. Focus groups, customer satisfaction surveys, and closed account telephone studies were just some of the methods used to provide insight for new product development, brand advertising, and sales...

    • 5 Community Building Through Fund-raising
      (pp. 65-74)
      Audrey Lee-Sung

      This chapter delineates the Japanese American National Museum’s (National Museum) philosophy toward community, collaboration, and resulting fund-raising strategies for completing a two-phase capital campaign. It describes how this campaign actively engaged the Japanese American community at all levels, from leadership to solicitors to donors. This fourteen-year effort, from 1985 to 1999, generated over $57 million—the most successful fund-raising effort by any Asian American organization in the United States.

      There are other pertinent reasons to focus on setup and implementation of the Phase I and Phase II campaigns, however. Traditionally, fund-raising within nonprofit institutions is characterized by approximately 10 percent...

    • 6 Board Development: Fiduciary Responsibility and Collaboration Through Strategic Planning
      (pp. 75-84)
      Frank L. Ellsworth

      Collaboration is inextricably bound within the mission of the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum). The National Museum’s mission is to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience. Collaboration in this context requires education. The museum’s approach to its development has been to engage communities in a variety of ways through the development of exhibitions and collections, oral histories, and fund-raising. The success of the mission and objectives can only be achieved through the collaboration of the museum’s many constituencies. The inclusion of diverse people so they know they are involved...

  6. Part II Collaborative Dimensions at the Local and National Levels

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 85-88)

      The chapters in this section, which documents a wide range of collaborative projects initiated by the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) and its affiliates, are arranged in chronological order. This organization helps the reader get a sense of how later projects were built upon and related to previous ones. It also gives a sense of how the mission and scope of the National Museum changed and grew over the years.

      The section begins with Akemi Kikumura-Yano’s chapter describing the first project of the National Partnership Program, piloted in 1992 with the Japanese American community in Portland, Oregon. Ultimately, this...

    • 7 The National Partnership Program: A Model for Community Collaborations
      (pp. 89-100)
      Akemi Kikumura-Yano

      In 1992 the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) piloted the first project of the National Partnership Program (NPP), collaborating with the Japanese American community in Portland and the Oregon Historical Society to develop a traveling exhibition, In This Great Land of Freedom: The Japanese Pioneers of Oregon. The exhibition focused on the history of the Japanese pioneers who migrated east across the Pacific and settled in Oregon. The exhibition premiered at the Oregon Historical Society from August 1993 to January 1994, then traveled to two states and six venues.¹ A Traveling Lecture Series, sponsored by the Oregon Council for...

    • 8 Coming to Terms: America’s Concentration Camps
      (pp. 101-122)
      Karen L. Ishizuka

      During World War II, while the United States fought for freedom and liberty abroad, at home it quietly rounded up men, women, and children from the West Coast, Hawai‘i, Alaska, and even South America and put them in what historians, social commentators, and government officials called “concentration camps.”² Although the United States was at war with Italy and Germany as well as Japan, only those of Japanese ancestry—both immigrant residents who were at that time not allowed to become naturalized citizens and their American-born children—were uprooted en masse from their homes and placed in barbed wire compounds surrounded...

    • 9 Finding Family Stories: Institutional Collaborations
      (pp. 123-130)
      Claudia Sobral

      The concept behind finding Family Stories (FFS) was born a few years earlier in the aftermath of civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992, which coincided with the Japanese American National Museum’s (National Museum) public opening. As the museum staff opened the institution, we couldn’t help but ask, what role could the museum play as a member of the diverse Los Angeles community? Museums have historically been considered authorities on historical truths and standards of art, not necessarily addressing contemporary issues and the needs of communities. But as Kinshasha Holman Conwill stated in the FFS exhibition brochure, “[M]useums around the...

    • 10 The REgenerations Project: A Comparative Collaboration in Community Oral History
      (pp. 131-140)
      Darcie C. Iki and Arthur A. Hansen

      The REgenerations Oral History Project: Rebuilding Japanese American Families, Communities, and Civil Rights in the Resettlement Era was initiated in 1997 by the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) and funded largely by the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. Inspired by a commitment to document Japanese American history beyond the World War II incarceration experience, this three-year collaborative, comparative, and community-based audio/video oral history project explored Japanese Americans’ struggle to rebuild their shattered lives during the period 1942 to 1965.

      The project focused on four Nikkei communities in the United States. Three of the sites (Los Angeles, San Diego, and...

    • 11 Dialogues from Common Ground
      (pp. 141-148)
      Naomi Hirahara

      Multiple dialogues in both English and Spanish led to the creation of the architectural framework for the Japanese American National Museum’s (National Museum) core exhibition for its new Pavilion. These dialogues took place mainly between two artists with shared experiences in multicultural Los Angeles: Clement Hanami, a Japanese American from East Los Angeles and the National Museum’s director of support services at the time, and Ulises Diaz, a Latino architect and member of ADOBE LA (Architects, Artists, and Designers Opening the Border Edge of Los Angeles).

      These dialogues and the resulting product—a “container” for information, photographs, and artifacts reflecting...

    • 12 All Roads Lead to Boyle Heights: Exploring a Los Angeles Neighborhood
      (pp. 149-166)
      Sojin Kim

      “All Roads Lead to Boyle Heights” proclaimed the phrase beneath the masthead of an early Los Angeles newspaper serving and promoting a new series of residential subdivisions around the turn of the twentieth century. This statement proved prescient: for the past hundred years, the Boyle Heights neighborhood has served as a port of entry to generations of new Angelenos from such far-flung places as Mexico, Russia, Italy, Syria, Japan, and Poland, as well as from other parts of the United States, including New York, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and northern California. Located east of the Los Angeles River, Boyle Heights...

    • 13 History, Current Events, and a Network Link: The Japanese American National Museum and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services
      (pp. 167-176)
      Irene Y. Hirano

      September 11, 2001, is a day forever marked in American history. It is also the day when the issue of who is an American was raised once again. The terrorists’ attacks in the United States resulted in homeland security becoming the central issue discussed by all Americans concerning all aspects of their lives. Clearly, Americans wanted more security. But the United States is a democratic society, and the U.S. Constitution was created to protect the rights and liberties of all its citizens. Following September 11, 2001, some Americans and even government agencies cast a suspicious eye on Arab Americans and...

  7. Part III Collaborative Dimensions in Transnational and Global Settings

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 177-178)

      The three chapters in this section offer insight into the Japanese American National Museum’s (National Museum) efforts to build innovative new partnerships with individuals and organizations on a transnational and global basis. Such collaborations are challenging linguistically, logistically, and financially; however, they are especially meaningful in making cross-cultural comparisons and creating linkages between Japanese Americans and Nikkei in other parts of the world.

      This section begins with a chapter by Masato Ninomiya, a Japanese Brazilian attorney, author, community advocate, and former president of the Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil who facilitated the National Museum’s first international travel of...

    • 14 International Exchanges at Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil
      (pp. 179-188)
      Masato Ninomiya

      The opening of Museu Histórico da Imigração Japonesa no Brasil (MHIJB) was held June 18, 1978, to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Japanese immigration to Brazil. The crown prince and princess of Japan at the time (now emperor and empress), as well as President Ernesto Geisel and the First Lady, attended the ceremony. The original purpose for establishing the MHIJB was to preserve Japanese immigrants’ memories and related materials that were starting to be lost since the day seventy years earlier when the steamship Kasato Maru had arrived in Brazil bringing the first Japanese immigrants.

      Comprising an executive committee...

    • 15 Museum Exhibitions in a Transnational Setting: Collaborations in Education Methodology
      (pp. 189-194)
      Yoshi Miki

      The traveling exhibition From Bentō to Mixed Plate: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Multicultural Hawai‘i provided the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) with an opportunity to extend its philosophy of community participation into the international arena. The exhibition traveled to five venues in the United States, attracting more than 400,000 visitors. Keichi Inamine, the governor of Okinawa Prefecture, visited the exhibition when it was at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Noting that about 40 percent of the Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i were descendants of emigrants from Okinawa, he invited the National Museum’s development team to his Prefectural Museum....

    • 16 Building Community Through Global Research
      (pp. 195-206)
      Akemi Kikumura-Yano, James A. Hirabayashi and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi

      On April 1, 1998, the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) received a three-year research grant from the Nippon Foundation to investigate the cultures and identities of Nikkei—people of Japanese descent—living in the Americas. The main purpose of the research was to gain a better understanding of the processes involved in becoming a Nikkei. We asked, What is a Nikkei, and how does the meaning of the word differ or change over time and space? The geographic focus of the study was the Americas, since that is where Japanese immigration first began and is where the vast majority...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 207-212)
    Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, Akemi Kikumura-Yano and James A. Hirabayashi

    The rise of ethnic consciousness during the civil rights era of the 1960s was a major factor influencing the establishment of the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) to describe a largely untold and unrecognized part of America’s social diversity. In the early 1970s the emerging consciousness of Japanese Americans was crystallized by a movement to demand redress and reparations from the government for the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.¹ In this light, the creation of the National Museum was both a consequence and a symbol of changing racial attitudes in American society.²

    Within the broader...

  9. Editors and Contributors
    (pp. 213-216)
  10. Index
    (pp. 217-227)