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Editorial: Big changes to Japan Art Academy chance to promote broad idea of art, culture

The Japan Art Academy, a national institution made up of artists with a long list of stunning accomplishments, is widening its scope of recognition to new fields, including film, photography, manga and animation.

    The move stems from reform proposals put together by an expert committee at the Agency for Cultural Affairs. This will be the first time new artistic forms have been added to the academy's remit since 1946.

    The academy, a government institution, was founded in the Meiji period as the Fine Arts Reviewing Committee and has a maximum 120 lifetime members. Each member is paid an annuity of 2.5 million yen (about $22,700) as a part-time national civil servant.

    The state of the academy has on occasion been debated in the National Diet, as it is not very well known on a society-wide level. Of note is how long it had been since the artistic forms covered by the academy had been reviewed, leading to institutional ossification.

    The exiting artforms embraced by the academy are divided among three broad categories: fine art, literature, and music, theater and dance. Among the 16 subcategories under these are calligraphy and kabuki. However, film, manga, design, and other areas are not included. Critics have said that the academy does not reflect the diversification and globalization of cultural and artistic activity.

    The reform proposals put forward by the expert committee will establish new subcategories for manga and film, the latter including animation. Japanese manga has been featured in a major exhibition at the British Museum, while anime works have won multiple awards overseas.

    Because there is no film subcategory, director and Order of Culture recipient Yoji Yamada is an academy member under the theater category. But creating a separate film subcategory will likely create more opportunities to honor people in the field. If subcultures supported by young people and others are also included, it should allow Japanese people to feel art and culture closer to their lives.

    The expert committee also recommended revamping the selection process for academy members. Until now, existing members of the relevant category have recommended replacements when a spot opens up, and then voted on the candidates at a category meeting. After the reforms, outside experts will also be included in the process.

    The academy's role is to engage in activities that contribute to the arts, and to voice opinions to the education minister, cultural affairs agency chief, and other figures. But the institution has not adequately fulfilled these functions.

    The arts and culture community has fallen on very hard times during the coronavirus crisis. Museums and cinemas have seen visitor numbers plunge, while the theater and music worlds have been pushed to the brink by the scaling down of performances.

    The academy should use the coming reforms as an opportunity to reconfirm the meaning of its existence, and fulfill its duty to support culture across a broad spectrum.

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