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Common Ground

The Japanese American National Museum and the Culture of Collaborations

By Akemi Kikumura-Yano, Lane R. Hirabayashi, James A. Hirabayashi

Publication Year: 2005

"As this collection clearly demonstrates, the Japanese American National Museum rejected the notion of the museum as a fortress of elite culture... [T]he JANM hopes to act as an agent of social change, to both educate and act as a catalyst for community building. Common Ground offers an insider's look at how the [JANM] researches, funds, and creates its exhibits. Unlike other museum studies anthologies . . . this collection does not emphasize academic authors or theoretical framing of issues. . . . The resulting book is written in a highly accessible and, at times, almost journalistic style."— Amerasia Journal

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.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

In Common Ground: The Japanese American National Museum and the Culture of Collaborations we share with the reader the evolving history of the Japanese American National Museum (National Museum) in Los Angeles as told by curators, scholars, designers, community activists, educators, and members of affiliated institutions who delve into the process of engaging and collaborating...

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Introduction: Commitment to Community,

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pp. 1-12

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...

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Part 1. The National Museum

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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...

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1. Self-Creation: Defining Cultural Identity Within Museum Exhibitions

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pp. 17-24

In the National Musuem 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...

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2. Home Movies: Cultural Recovery and the Value of Display

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pp. 25-42

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...

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3. Creating Community One Voice at a Time: Traveling Exhibition Programs That Help Create Community

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pp. 43-50

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...

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4. Expanding the Museum Audience Through Visitor Research

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pp. 51-64

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.

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5. Community Building Through Fund-raising

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pp. 65-74

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...

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6. Board Development: Fiduciary Responsibility and Collaboration Through Strategic Planning,

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pp. 75-84

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...

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Part 2. Collaborative Dimension at the Local and National Levels

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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...

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7. The National Partnership Program: A Model for Community Collaborations

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pp. 89-100

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...

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8. Coming to Terms: America’s Concentration Camps

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pp. 101-122

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...

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9. Finding Family Stories: Institutional Collaborations

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pp. 123-130

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...

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10. The Regenerations Project: A Comparative Collaboration in Community Oral History

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pp. 131-140

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...

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11. Dialogues from Common Ground

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pp. 141-148

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...

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12. All Roads Lead to Boyle Heights: Exploring a Los Angeles Neighborhood

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pp. 149-166

“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...

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13. History, Current Events, and a Network Link: The Japanese American National Museum and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services

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pp. 167-176

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...

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Part 3. Collaborative Dimensions in Transnational and Global Settings

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...

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14. International Exchanges at Museu Hist

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pp. 179-188

The opening of Museu Historico da Imigracao 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...

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15. Museum Exhibitions in a Transnational Setting

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pp. 189-194

The traveling exhibition From Bentö 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...

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16. Building Community Through Global Research

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pp. 195-206

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...

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pp. 207-212

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...

Editors and Contributors

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pp. 213-216


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pp. 217-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780870818608
E-ISBN-10: 0870818600
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870817793
Print-ISBN-10: 0870817795

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 30 black and white photographs
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Japanese American National Museum (Los Angeles, Calif.).
  • Japanese Americans -- Cultural assimilation.
  • Japanese Americans -- History.
  • Japanese Americans -- California -- History.
  • California -- Cultural policy.
  • United States -- Cultural policy.
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