Maybe it sounded like a crazy idea. Maybe it still does.
Four Maryland Institute, College of Art students are organizing an international exhibit of student work from seven countries to be shown in Japan next January, along with a forum for participating artists. They're raising almost $60,000 to cover the expenses, and overseeing the myriad details on both sides of the Pacific from publicity brochure to artist applications.
Crazy? Well, so far they've got the place to show the art. They've got $45,000. They've got a budget that accounts for everything from flight fees ($8,600) to invitation distribution ($107). And they've got a schedule complete with Traveling Artist Workshop, Visit to Nishimura Museum, even pizza break (yes, pizza in Japan).
And they're not afraid to be idealistic about why they are doing it. "It's about understanding," says Kerrie Bellisario. "It's to break down prejudices and fear."
"They say a borderless world is coming," says Masayuki Fujino. "Every country relies on other countries, so we students have to learn what we can do together." They call the project the Bridge.
Fujino, Bellisario, Kurt Brugel and Jose Cabrera are the four students who became involved in the project. Last year, the first three worked in various capacities on the Fudo Myoh-Oh sculpture project, a 33-foot wooden Buddha being created at the institute by a group of sculptors from Japan. Seeing Japanese and Americans working together on a project prompted Fujino to propose to his fellow students an idea he had had for some time: an international student exhibit.
It appealed to Bellisario because she had met prejudice working on the Fudo project. "People, students even, said, 'I can't believe you're doing this. You're a Christian, and you're working on a Buddhist sculpture.' Others said, 'They bombed us in World War II and now Japanese products are taking over everything.' "
It appealed to Brugel because "I've had an obsession with Japanese culture for years," and because it would mean "dealing with the real world and learning quickly about projects and reports and businesses."
It appealed to them all as a way to learn to work together, as the Fudo sculptors were working together. "We have large egos, whether we admit it or not," says Brugel. "But you can't have an ego and get things done."
They were practical enough to know that money was essential to their success. Fujino, who comes from Hiroshima, began writing letters to businessmen there. "As you can guess," he says, "only a few responded to my letter, but I kept doing that. And, some people introduced me to some other people."
At a Christmas party in December, Bellisario remembers, Fujino surprised the others by saying, "Do you have passports? We should go to Japan and let them see you're real." So they went in January, and "explained ourselves to Japanese companies," says Brugel.
Fujino graduated from the institute this spring and is now in Hiroshima where he is running the Bridge project from that end out of a small donated office with the help of his brother, Masaya, and a friend,Akihiro Kuono. He is reluctant to be too specific about funding for the project. Companies, he says are "afraid to put their names in the paper too much," because they don't want to be deluged with requests for money. But of the $45,000 raised so far, he says, the largest single donor is Chugoku Power Co., "the biggest company in this area." It has also agreed to make its large lobby available for the show in January.
The Hiroshima Bank and Mazda are among the other donors.
Fujino also credits his father, a businessman, with helping the group to get the support of the City of Hiroshima Foundation for the Promotion of Culture, which, says Bellisario, gives the effort credibility and helps in fund-raising.
To make the Bridge international in every sense, the group wants to get funding in America as well as Japan, and is seeking non-profit status from the federal government. Working with the help of Douglas Frost, the institute's vice president of institutional advancement, they hope to get provisional non-profit status by the end of the summer. They have a projected budget of $58,000 for the project as a whole, of which they hope to raise about $48,000 in Japan and $10,000 in the United States.
Not far into the project, the three students realized they needed a graphic arts specialist to design promotional materials, application brochures and eventually a catalog for the show. So they were joined by Cabrera, a graphic design major and Fujino's former roommate. So far he has designed and the group has produced an eight-page booklet outlining the aims of the Bridge.
Those aims have both expanded and been modified since the beginning. Early on, says Bellisario, "We developed the idea to do a forum, with a student representative from each [participating] country." The plan is to have the student representatives meet in Hiroshima during the show to exchange ideas, participate in workshops and possibly create a mural on a Hiroshima wall. The forum has become as important to the group as the show itself. "It can break down barriers between cultures, and teach people they are neighbors, not foreigners," says Brugel. "When you get people in one room, a lot that's wonderful can happen."
As planning went on, the show was scaled down to what, it is hoped, are manageable proportions. "At first, we wanted to make it worldwide," says Bellisario. "Then
we modified that to two continents, Asia and America, then to 10 countries, then to seven."
Currently, they hope to have the participation of Canada, the United States and Mexico on this side of the Pacific and Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan in Asia.
The plan is to send information and applications to universities and art schools in each country, inviting students to send slides that will be reviewed by a jury of art specialists in Japan and possibly this country as well. About 10 works, 3 by 4 feet maximum, are to be selected from each country, and shipped to Japan in December for installation of the show, planned for Jan. 13-26.
Some parts of the schedule look highly optimistic, if not downright unrealistic. For instance, the projection is to get information about the show to universities by mid-October, and to have applications received from students by early November.
If everything goes according to schedule, the workload will increase as the fall goes on. The crunch will be made worse by the fact that Bellisario, Cabrera and Brugel do not have the luxury of devoting all their time to the Bridge. All will be full-time seniors at the institute this fall, and all have other outside commitments.
From Japan, Fujino concedes that perhaps the schedule is too optimistic, maybe there will have to be some postponement of the show. But that hasn't been finally decided yet. In the meantime, planning proceeds for a January show. Looking to the fall, Bellisario says simply, "it definitely will be a stressful semester."
Their accomplishments so far argue for the ultimate success of a project that most people would probably have called a pipe dream when they started. Doug Frost, one of several institute staff members who have helped the group, is enthusiastic about their prospects. "They have some things going for them," he says, "and youth and not knowing it can't be done is one of them."