Photo/IllutrationCritics of the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ decision to withdraw the subsidy for the Aichi Triennale 2019 protest in front of the agency's building in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 26. (Shinnosuke Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A member of a government review board that approved a subsidy for a now-embattled art festival resigned Oct. 2 to protest the decision by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to withhold the funds.

Kunihiro Noda, who is also a professor of cultural policy at Tottori University, slammed the agency’s decision and rejected its rationale.

“It is pointless to conduct a review if the agency can withdraw a subsidy after giving its approval based on the board’s recommendation,” he said.

The agency in April had approved the subsidy for the Aichi Triennale 2019, which opened on Aug. 1 and runs through Oct. 14.

The international art festival came under criticism and threats of arson over an exhibition titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” At issue were a statue symbolizing “comfort women,” who were forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese troops, and other exhibits related to Japan’s history.

Organizers suspended the exhibition three days after the festival opened.

The agency on Sept. 26 announced that it was withdrawing all 78 million yen ($728,000) in the central government subsidy for the festival, sparking cries of censorship.

The agency said its decision had nothing to do with the content of the exhibits. It stressed that the festival’s organizing committee had not provided all the necessary information about the event when it applied for the subsidy.

Noda said the agency had not notified him beforehand of its decision to withdraw the subsidy.

He said he is also not convinced by the agency’s explanation that the subsidy was pulled because whether the art festival would be smoothly operated and sustainable was not reviewed.

“The agency is simply giving a reason after the fact,” he said. “Its handling of this matter is outrageous.”

Noda said he fears the agency’s pullout of a previously approved subsidy could become common practice.

The review board of outside experts on revitalization of local cultures examined 31 applications from the public for subsidies and selected the Aichi Triennale and 25 other events. The agency then approved the board’s recommendations.

The agency on Oct. 1, in response to an inquiry by Nobuko Motomura, a Lower House member of the Japanese Communist Party, said it did not take the minutes of a meeting where agency officials decided to withdraw the subsidy for the triennale.

Officials examined the appropriateness of providing the subsidy to the event as part of “clerical procedures,” rather than calling a special meeting, the agency said.

“In a case like this preliminary meeting, it is the norm not to take minutes,” an official at the agency’s department of revitalizing local cultures said.

The official added that no written records were kept when the 25 other events were approved as projects subsidized by the agency.

Motomura denounced the agency’s procedures.

“It presents a serious problem that the agency took unusual steps and did not make public the process that led to the decision (to withdraw the subsidy),” she said. “If the agency insists that the content of the exhibits was irrelevant to the withdrawal, it has all the more reason to disclose the process.”

Yukiko Miki, head of nonprofit organization Access-Info Clearing House, said the agency’s lack of records could represent a legal violation.

She said the education ministry, which oversees the agency, has a set of rules on the management of government documents based on the Public Records Management Law.

“In regard to important factors behind granting subsidies to local governments, ministry and agency employees are required to create a record of the process, including what was discussed at preliminary meetings, under the rules,” she said. “If no records were created in the process of deciding to withdraw the subsidy in the current case, the agency might have violated the law.”

Local governments, including the Aichi prefectural government and Nagoya city government, are involved in the running of the Aichi Triennale.

(This article was compiled from reports by Eriko Chiba and Mayumi Ueda.)