The event honors supporters in advance of a campaign to expand the museum’s influence.
By P.C. Staff
LOS ANGELES — The Japanese American National Museum held its annual fundraising gala and online auction with a little — make that a lot — of help from its friends: the Harry Manaka and Gerald Ishibashi-led Sansei Rockers music act, some artificial intelligence, a live audience of hundreds and master of ceremonies Frank Buckley, anchorman of “KTLA 5 Morning News.”
The auction portion of the May 13 event, held at the InterContinenal Los Angeles, raised $247,740 for the museum’s Bid for Education initiative. The Lexus Opportunity drawing for a 2023 Lexus RX500h — won by George Iwanaga — that was donated by Toyota Motor Sales, meantime, raised an additional $164,925.
Both sums contributed to the estimated, according to JANM, $1,352,642 million total the evening raised, which also included event sponsorships and ticket sales. With that sum and the $10 million JANM received from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in 2021, the museum is in the early stages of what, according to CEO and President Ann Burroughs, are “very, very bold plans” that will launch in a few months.
Before that, however, she was preceded by Bill Fujioka, who took over the chairmanship of JANM’s board of trustees following the death of its former chair, former Cabinet member and U.S Rep. Norman Mineta, who died in May 2022.
Fujioka thanked the audience. “With your support, JANM continues to be a place where people with diverse views and beliefs can come together and talk about the lessons of our history and how they helped shape the many social issues our nation faces today,” he said.
Prefacing her remarks by saying that “the baton is finally passing” to a “new generation of leaders and supporters” and that the museum’s founders had wanted it to “stand as a beacon of civil rights,” Burroughs said, “I’m delighted to share with you that we’ve embarked on the largest fundraising campaign in JANM history.
“It’s a campaign to transform our physical and digital presence, our exhibitions and our program, and we have very, very bold plans. We will reimagine our public spaces and our core exhibition, Burroughs continued. “We will retell the Japanese American story as an American story, from immigration to incarceration, from post-World War to resettlement to the present, as a story of interconnectedness with other communities, as a story of how the Japanese American community has changed over the decades.”
Burroughs also said that JANM would relaunch its National Center for the Preservation of Democracy as “a place where we gather people to talk about race, talk about identity, about social justice, about the fragility of democracy, with the ever-deepening divisions within civil society that we’re seeing across the country, the rise of hate, the attacks upon democracy itself.
“The need to stand up the center is more urgent now than it’s ever been — and who better, who better to do that in JANM?” Burroughs asked.
Burroughs also announced that JANM would bestow a new name upon its plaza to honor the museum’s previous board of trustees chairman. “We will name our plaza Norman Y. Mineta Democracy Plaza,” she said, which elicited audience applause.
The evening’s next speakers were JANM board of governors members Josh Morey and Nikki Kodama, who were followed by entrepreneur Cole Kawana, founder and president of the nonprofit Japanese American Stories, which develops “artificial intelligence avatars to help preserve and share the oral histories of Japanese Americans.”
Kawana showed off the second of four immersive exhibitions done in collaboration with StoryFile Inc. The first, from 2021, was with 442nd veteran Lawson Sakai, now deceased, and the second was with the still-very-much-alive June Yasuno Aochi Berk, who introduced her digital avatar to the audience and demonstrated how in the future, museum visitors and students in far-flung locations alike will be able to ask “her” questions about her experiences.
According to Kawana, to make this work, Berk responded to “346 questions, ranging 32 topics, over six hours, eight minutes and 22 seconds of video captured in front of a 360-degree array of green-screen cameras.” “She’ll soon be able to speak about her role or to [her] experience to dozens of classrooms across the country all at the same time,” he said.
Following the demonstration were JANM board of governors member Jeff Maloney, who is also a councilmember for and former mayor of the City of Alhambra; Tadashi Nakamura, newly named director of JANM’s Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center, who introduced a year-in-review video; JANM board of governors member and eldest son of Norman Mineta, David Mineta, who, before introducing a video commemorating recently deceased JANM supporters and community members, spoke about his late father and another stalwart JANM supporter, Thomas Masami Yuki; and board of governors member Jennifer Hirano, daughter of JANM’s inaugural executive director and later its president and CEO, the late Irene Hirano, and JANM board of governors member Ken Inouye, son of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, JANM’s board of governors chairman emeritus.
Inouye then introduced Jeff MacIntyre, an Emmy award-winning producer and partner of KABC Channel 7 telejournalist David Ono, to host the evening’s fundraising element.
Following the fund drive, next were JANM board of governors members Christopher E.J. Yang, group vp of business development at Toyota North America, and Lisa Sugimoto, vp of PPL Inc.; and JANM volunteer Carole Yamakoshi and JANM board of trustees Chair Emeritus Ernest Doizaki.
The show closed with the Sansei Rockers and lead vocalist Royce Jones covering the Rascals’ hits “A Beautiful Morning” and “Good Lovin’” sandwiching Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years.”