This month we are featuring former New York Japanese Artists
Association President Keiko Koshimitsu.
Rev. Okui with members of
the Japanese Artist Association. Ms. Koshimitsu is the second from
Encountering Tenri Cultural Institute
by Keiko Koshimitsu
Staking their future successes in their talents, young artists from all
over the globe flock to New York. I was one of those young artists when
I landed at JFK twenty years ago, filled with hopes and aspirations. Though
I struggled somewhat with the language barrier, I walked from gallery
to gallery in the then-blossoming art district of SoHo along with my resume
and slides of work.
Time has passed and since then I’ve become an employee, a wife,
and a mother in this land and, though my love for art hasn’t changed,
my definition of being an artist has slowly broadened. Rather than strive
for self-expression, I’ve awakened to the responsibilities an artist
has towards contributing to society. I volunteered my services as treasurer
to the New York Japanese Artist Association then presided over the association
as president from 2001 to 2006.
Our association is a New York State recognized non-profit group that roots
its activities in the community and provides support to Japanese artists
based in the U.S. while engaging in cross-cultural interaction that centers
on gallery exhibitions and art seminars that are open to the public. As
of 2007, there are approximately 50 artist members and 30 support members
who are actively engaged in cultural exchange and community support.
My first task as president was to find a space for gallery exhibitions.
Real estate in New York is very pricey and it was a challenge as an artist
to rent a space suitable for an exhibition. Removing that kind of a burden
from the artists’ shoulders was a priority, but there were many
long fruitless days of contacting Japanese galleries where I’d fall
despondent after each case that went nowhere.
Then I recalled an incident when I was young in which Mr. Shinagawa, Director
of the Tenri Gallery in SoHo at the time, called on me as a “fill-in”
artist. An artist friend gave me the new Greenwich Village address of
Tenri and so the three of us, former President Wada, then Vice- President
Ichikawa and me, paid a visit on that cold day to the new location expecting
to be turned down. Arriving at the building, a spacious high ceiling and
expansive space greeted us. Mr. Shinagawa was not there but Rev. Okui,
Director of the Institute, welcomed our sudden visit and lent a compassionate
ear to the descriptions of our activities; he then lent us the space on
the spot with conditions generously favorable to us.
Unfortunately, just before the first association exhibition at Tenri Institute,
the events of 9/11 shook the world and at one point the exhibition was
almost cancelled. But, backed by the support and generosity of Rev. Okui,
the staff members of the Institute and the artists themselves, the opening
reception began on schedule with a moment of silence to honor the victims.
Seven years later, with the Tenri Institute as the association’s
main exhibition space, members of the community are now able to view our
exhibitions at many Japanese galleries and companies as well as at the
Japanese Consulate General. Not only do we hold exhibitions but also the
Institute has been so generous in allowing us to use the space for art
seminars, art fairs and meetings, even at times stepping in to help artists
resolve issues with their visas. All members are filled with gratitude
towards the generosity of the Institute.
I would like to use this opportunity to extend, on behalf of the members
of the association, our sincere gratitude to a great institution that
plays an important role not only within the Japanese community but also
as a New York City cultural beacon, and still has the generosity to lend
its hand to a tiny organization like ours. To Rev. Okui and all the staff
members at Tenri Cultural Institute, thank you for always making us feel
welcome despite the myriad of requests we always have.
This year Ayako Furukawa has succeeded me as president, but our mission
to contribute to the community will never change so please continue to
lend us your warm support. And, last but not least, we would like to wish
the best to everyone and may prosperity continue to bless those in Tenrikyo.