As I have previously written, my CIP for this semester was done at the Kyoto Art Center. My original intent in choosing this program was to become acquainted with the art scene here in Kyoto and to make some valuable connections through my volunteering! I would happily say that I think I have achieved these as well as, made an absolutely wonderful group of friends!
Much to my surprise, the actual volunteering tasks I was doing were a lot less based on my ability to speak English. Instead, I was much more like a regular volunteer at the center, taking on one shift a week in the gallery and working one event per month. Seeing the way in which volunteers were organized, events coordinated and how the center worked to make art accessible for the larger community in Kyoto was really enriching.
I have learned many things from my CIP; such as, the way appropriate, formal interactions are conducted in a business-like atmosphere. However, one of the most impressive things I learned over my time volunteering was the ways in which status and group identity inform everyday interactions to an extraordinary degree. This oes beyond the use of 敬語. Aside from the normal difficulties of entering a normal group(let alone one with a language barrier) was the fact that I was the only male volunteer among the members of the incoming batch of volunteers. This had helped me a lot in understanding the complexity of group formation and the position in one’s group, of course through the lens of being a volunteer at an art center. As we all were new volunteers,there was little difference between our “status” in the larger context of the center however, in the allocation of tasks by our supervisor, a type hierarchy emerged. This is what had seemed to be a big influence on the ways the other volunteers would interact with me and each other. Specifically, because of a bit of an initial struggle in properly communicating, most of my interactions with the other volunteers resembled a mother duck helping her pathetic duckling child…which is really funny retrospectively. However, over time I was able to convey my knowledge gained from a background in art history and my being able to speak English both played a role in the change in the ways my interactions toward the end of my time at the center.
I am really grateful I was able to work with the Kyoto Art Center this fall. Not only, did it allow me to continue my interest in art and combine with my stay in Japan, it also deepened my connection with those helping popularize fine art in Kyoto! All within the duration of my stay in Japan! I will miss my cohort at the Art Center but, am happy knowing even as I leave they will continue to bring joy, through art to those living in Kyoto~!
Great post Andy! I was curious if, through any of the events you were helping to coordinate, you were able to converse with the visitors to the center and if any of those conversations were interesting to you as an art historian. For example, does it seem like the way in which Japanese people approach art differs at all from the way Americans do, or were the events arranged in a way that shocked you as someone with a background in art?
Andrew, thanks for the wonderful comment! To be honest, I was both surprised and not surprised. It seems like the approach to arts is the same. However, what differs is the way in which people organize around arts here. For example, in the states it seems that cohorts of artists rarely have a space like the Art Center to convene under. In other words, there is some sense of institutional support of the arts through places like the Center. This isn’t to say that this doesn’t exist in the United States but, I think here it seems to be more of a group oriented activity! But, of course both my experience in the U.S. and here are rather limited! I hope that somewhat answered your question! 😀