Changing of the guard at NNMCC
Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre selects new Executive Director
The Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre was opened on September 22, 2000. Part of the Nikkei Place complex – which includes an assisted living residence, a seniors residence, a Japanese Canadian garden, a Japanese food store and a Japanese restuarant – the Centre houses the Nikkei National Museum, repository of the largest historical Japanese Canadian collection of Canada.
With a stated mission to honour, preserve, and share Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian history and heritage for a better Canada, the Centre offers public programs, exhibits, services, publications, public use of the facilities and special events.
Conceived by architects Raymond & Jason Moriyama, together with project architect Ken Takeuchi, the Centre – at the corner of Kingsway and Sperling in Burnaby – offers a wide range of programs. It is home to a Canada’s first youth taiko group, odori and martial arts groups, and many other cultural activities.
As part of the constellation of Japanese Canadian community organizations spread out across Metro Vancouver, Nikkei Centre provides a welcoming, intergenerational, intercultural gathering place.
The Museum recently underwent a major renovation and expansion, made possible by a donation from Yoshiko Karasawa, as well as funding by the Government of Canada. The inaugural exhibition, Nikkei 日系, curated by Director/Curator Sherri Kajiwara, draws upon the museum’s archive and permanent collection to tell a layered story of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. More than 25 individuals and family stories, accompanied by rare and previously inaccessible personal belongings from the community, will give evidence to lived experience of nikkei in Canada.
With renovations well on their way to completion, Executive Director Roger Lemire made the decision to retire. A nationwide search was conducted and Karah Goshinmon, currently Manager, Culture & Partnership Engagement, was selected as the new ED.
I spoke to Roger and Karah on the eve of July’s launch and grand reopening.
Bulletin Interview: Roger Lemire and Karah Goshinmon
Roger, you’ve had a good run as Executive Director of the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre. What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment in your time at the Centre?
RL Well, six years goes by very quickly and when I look back to the time when I first walked through our doors it amazes me as to how we have evolved as an organisation. To suggest one specific area would be too limiting, and to suggest any accomplishments that we have had by any one individual would not be correct. I always felt that my job was to bring people together in achieving the common good of the NNMCC and this in itself is what we have accomplished. Physically we have redeveloped a number of areas of the building and the culmination of this will be the grand opening of our newly redeveloped Kawasara Museum. This particular project was 10 years in the making and I am pleased that we could make it a reality. I also feel that the organisation is stronger than it has ever been. We have spent a lot of time and effort in the redevelopment of our cultural programming and events, how we communicate with both the local and national community, as well as our political partnerships that have been greatly enhanced. All this was accomplished while we kept a close eye on our responsibility to the Japanese Canadian community of which was the founding focus of our existence. We also wanted to ensure that we were as inclusive as possible in respecting the thousands of years of Japanese culture and providing an environment that we could share with the community.
Was there anything that surprised you as you got to know the Japanese Canadian community in greater depth?
RL I wouldn’t say anything shocked or surprised me, as my wonderful Japanese Canadian wife, Karen, had prepared me for the many nuances of the community. However, one area which stood out was the huge responsibility we have in balancing the concerns of the Japanese Canadian Community as well as the Japanese national community. The expectations were very different from one group to the next and the balancing of this area can be challenging at times. We have a tremendous responsibility here ,and I have always felt that we were the stewards of that responsibility and I am hopeful that the community appreciates the work that we do.
Was there anything you found especially challenging?
RL Operating a not-for-profit in today’s world can be daunting at times as there is tremendous competition for every discretionary dollar available. We have a very lean operation for a facility that is open virtually seven days a week, twelve hours a day, and if it wasn’t for the overwhelming commitment of our team, the financial challenges would be even greater. With virtually no ongoing government funding, we operate solely of our own means and are highly dependent on the generosity of the community. With that said, we have been able to put in place revenue-bearing initiatives that have enabled the organisation to evolve into a more stable financial outlook and footing.
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
RL There are just too many to list. I would need a full edition of The Bulletin to highlight the many unbelievable things we have accomplished, but if I had to name a few, the first year that the NNMCC operated Matsuri would be one, the opening of our Budojo, the expected opening of our new Kawasara Museum and, last but not least, the development and growth of our staff that has truly evolved into one of the best teams throughout the cultural landscape of our community.
RL I just ran out of time. There are so many things yet to be done however the timing was right for me to hand over the keys to the future, which I am confident will see great things under the leadership of Karah Goshinmon.
What’s on the horizon for you?
RL I have been asked this many times. For the first time in my life I just want to find out what it is like to have nothing to do. I have pretty much been working for over 40 years and have never had more than two weeks off, so that will be a really new time in my life. I look forward to spending more time with my family and especially my grandson Parker and my second grandchild, who is due to arrive in December.
I would just like to thank the community for their support, all of the Directors who I have worked with over the years, all of the volunteers that make us a viable organisation and finally my staff. Without their unconditional commitment, we would not be able to exist. I have been blessed to have been provided this opportunity and I look forward to watching the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre evolve and grow. It has been an interesting ride.
Karah, the Centre could have brought in someone from the outside but they chose to bring someone up from the ranks. How did you promote yourself as the best candidate for the job?
KG Based on my observations and experiences specific to the NNMCC, I presented my ideas on ways to foster a strong future for the organization, built on the foundation of Roger’s work, and the board responded with positive support. It is an honour to step into the role of Executive Director and I am committed to ensuring the success and viability of this organization.
Can you share something about your family’s history in Canada?
KG My dad was born and raised in the tiny town of Hardieville, what is now a residential area in northwest Lethbridge. His parents (Shigeru and Masako), both Canadian-born nisei of Okinawan ancestry, spent their lives in Southern Alberta. My great-grandparents came from Okinawa directly to Southern Alberta as early as 1906, among some of the first issei settlers to that region. At the age of 92, my grandma lives in a care home in Calgary, and still remembers the sounds of Uchinaguchi (Okinawan language) and recalls the hard work that pervaded her life; her perseverance and determination can be seen on her hands. My dad is a musician and graphic artist who loves practicing Okinawan karate, and in his semi-retired life, he has become involved as a Director on the board of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society.
You’re a happa – what’s the non-Nikkei side of the equation?
KG My mom was born in Calgary, and given that her father was in the Air Force, she moved around the country a fair amount as a child. My grandpa was born in South Wales and immigrated to Canada with his family when he was a eight years old, and moved to Vancouver from the coal-mining town of Anyox in the mid-1930s. My grandma was born in New Westminster, and we recently found out that her family history can be traced back to one of Les Fille du Roi, young French women sent to marry settlers in New France back in the 1600s. All aspects of my family heritage as a Canadian fascinate me.
What about your own journey from there to here?
KG I was born and raised in Esquimalt (Victoria) on Vancouver Island with my sister, and have been surrounded by music, dance and visual arts as far back as I can remember, and became interested in learning Japanese language when it was offered in school. After volunteering with archaeological projects on the west coast, I completed a BA in Anthropology at the University of Victoria guided by my interest in the relationships between the creation and interpretation of material culture and cultural practices. Since moving to Vancouver, I gained experience as a volunteer at the Museum of Anthropology, while seeking to pursue my passion for the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector, and am reminded on a daily basis how grateful I am to work in the field that I love.
In 2012, I moved to Vancouver, where I live with my fiancée (we’re getting married this month), who is a House and Techno music producer and DJ, and my half-Japanese stepdaughters, who maintain a deep connection to their Japanese identity and language.
I am a student of the Omotesenke school of sado, the way of tea, and have been studying for five years under the instruction and guidance of Maiko Behr. In fact, the first time I visited the NNMCC, I attended an Omotesenke chanoyu workshop, where I met Maiko-sensei.
What do you see as your biggest challenge once you take over the reins of the Centre?
KG I look forward to taking on the challenge of building a stronger relationship with the City of Burnaby, local businesses and supporters to strengthen the foundation of the NNMCC’s operations.
What is your vision for the Centre now what the expansion is complete?
KG The NNMCC’s strategic plan and mission to honour, preserve, and share Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian history and heritage for a better Canada guide my vision for the museum & cultural centre. With the renovations coming to a close, I would like to see the NNMCC enter its third decade with opportunities to showcase innovative artists and engaging exhibits, while strengthening our team of museum and cultural sector professionals.
What do you see when you look ahead ten years, both the Centre and community at large?
KG Looking ahead, I see the NNMCC as a well-respected and celebrated pillar of Japanese Canadian arts, culture and heritage in the City of Burnaby, the province, and nationwide. The needs of the JC community will change as demographics shift, which will be supported by an increase in the variety of programs appealing to our diverse patrons of differing ages, interests, backgrounds, education, and languages spoken.
How do you see the Centre fitting in within the greater Nikkei community in the lower mainland?
KG The NNMCC is an invaluable gathering place, and caretaker of the history, traditions and heritage of Japanese Canadians and people of Japanese ancestry, while providing an avenue for visitors and the community to actively engage with Japanese culture. I see the NNMCC continuing to advance dialogue and discovery in the region and across the country, and work collaboratively to ensure a bright and sustainable future.
Anything you’d like to add?
KG This summer is full of excitement at the NNMCC, with a full roster of exceptional summer students. Staff continue to work above and beyond all expectations to complete the renovation project and exhibit opening on July 20, while facilitating sold out programs such as Manga Camp and the Internment Bus Tour. Come visit us to see the new exhibit, highlighting individual stories connected to our permanent collection, and enjoy the Japanese cultural festivities at Tanabata + Book Sale (July 6 & 7), and Nikkei Matsuri (August 31 & September 1). Our annual Community Awards Dinner is on the horizon and will be held on October 12, so save the date!