New JANM exec expands focus to attract younger generations

G.W. (Greg) Kimura ­ Brian Adams Photography

G.W. (Greg) Kimura ­
Brian Adams Photography

LOS ANGELES — Symbolizing the evolution of Japanese America is Dr. G.W. (Greg) Kimura, a Yonsei (fourth generation Japanese American) of mixed race, who will soon observe his one-year anniversary as chief executive officer at the Japanese American National Museum. The fourth-generation Alaskan took over on Jan. 20, 2012 from Dr. Akemi Kikumura Yano, who held the post from 1999 until August of 2011.

Kimura had served since 2006 as president and CEO of the Alaska Humanities Forum, where its revenue doubled during his tenure and its standing elevated to the third largest in the nation, according to JANM. He holds a master’s degree in divinity from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Cambridge University.

Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, a member of JANM’s search committee, stated in a news release, “In many ways, Greg Kimura represents our evolving community. He is a Yonsei who grew up outside the larger historic Nikkei communities. Yet he has maintained his cultural ties, has a thorough understanding of our community’s history, and has expressed his desire to pass his heritage on to his own children.”

JANM’s focus is to continue to tell the core story of the Nikkei community, Kimura told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Over (the) next few years, we’ll be revising the Common Ground exhibit. We’ll also reach out with new and innovative exhibitions and programs to draw in younger generations of Japanese Americans and people who are not of Japanese extraction but are interested in things related to the culture.”

Three exhibits next year aimed at expanding the focus of the museum to reach out beyond the traditional Nikkei audience include: exploring mixed-race identity, in partnership with the University of Southern California; a Los Angeles Dodgers exhibit showcasing the team’s different minority baseball players; and a major exhibition on Asian American portraiture from the Smithsonian Institution.

Coming Home
“I feel very humbled and honored to have this opportunity,” Kimura said. “It’s a huge honor to be given the position to steward such an important institution in the Nikkei community. I’ve been a museum member for a number of years and I always felt very close to it even though from far away. Coming to the Japanese American National Museum is truly like coming home.”

Despite living in Alaska, where the Japanese American population is very small, Kimura often visited JANM when he was in Los Angeles. He recalled being “profoundly moved” by several museum exhibitions, including “kip fulbeck: part asian, 100% hapa” (2006).

Kimura’s mother is Swiss American, while his wife of 21 years, Joy, is an Anglo from Southern California. They have a 10-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter. “It’s a big deal for my whole family to move down here,” he said.

The Japanese American history told in the museum, from immigration through the years of establishing a home, the incarceration experience and what came afterward, Kimura commented, is a story “I feel very close and familiar with, but I also understand that the history is an evolving one and that there are new immigrants and new generations whose stories have yet to be told.”

Kimura’s great-grandfather immigrated to America from Nagasaki, initially disembarking in San Francisco and eventually settling in Anchorage. “He established a laundry and then a restaurant, around 1908-09,” the JANM chief related. “My great-great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side also had a laundry in a fishing village called Cordova.”

Financial Health of JANM
JANM’s 2012 audit indicates that the museum is in the black, has paid off its short-term debt and is prepaying on its 30-year bond, Kimura disclosed. “We’re actually as secure as we’ve been in many years. Over the past several years, there’s been a constriction of employees, but we’re starting to grow again. Now we have about 50 full-time equivalent positions. Nine months ago, we had 46 full time equivalent positions. Ten years ago, there were 140 employees.”

Government funding for the arts has been decreasing the past few years, he lamented. “Now we are becoming more like a small business or like other nonprofits, relying on competitive grants. Much of the funding now comes from major donors and corporations, including Japanese corporations.”

The outlook for JANM is “very positive,” Kimura declared. “I don’t believe in a huge unsustainable growth. We’re going to be increasing our employees, but we’re going at a sustainable level where we’re able to withstand any changes in the economic environment.”

JANM has a “strong moral responsibility to the community,” he said, “to make sure that the story of Japanese America is never taken for granted, that the civil rights message is never lost. We have a very value-based institution that puts us in a good position both in the short term and the long term to grow as an institution.”

The Japanese American National Museum, established in 1985, is dedicated to fostering greater understanding and appreciation for America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by preserving and telling the stories of Americans of Japanese ancestry.

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