The Benesse Art Site Naoshima

SLIDESHOW: What started on the island of Naoshima has over the decades evolved into a collective of art activities across the islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

In conversation with Soichiro Fukutake, the visionary Japanese billionaire behind The Benesse Art Site Naoshima.

Located in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea is a place of absolute tranquillity. Flanked by Okayama in the north and Takamatsu in the south, the collection of islands, Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima, is a Bermuda Triangle of calm — the perfect marriage of art, architecture and nature. The man behind it? Soichiro Fukutake.

The Okayama native isn’t just any visionary. Fukutake joined his father’s company, Fukutake Publishing, in 1973. But it was in 1986, after his father’s death, when he stepped up to the role of president and representative director at the company and later chairman and CEO. In 1995, Fukutake Publishing was renamed to what is now known as Benesse Holdings Inc. Although he stepped down as chairman/CEO, he became an executive adviser to the company and later honoury adviser. Now, he still wears several hats: president of the Benesse Art Site Naoshima; chairman of the Fukutake Foundation; honorary advisor to Benesse Holdings Inc (a company founded by his father); and general producer for the Setouchi Triennale.

But his passion has always been the arts and their impact on communities. His goal is to use art and nature as media to build communities that are as close to the ideals of a utopia as possible. Here, we speak with the billionaire about the motivations behind the Benesse Art Site Naoshima and art patronage.

Billionaire: As a wealthy individual, do you feel the responsibility of being an art patron?
Soichiro Fukutake:
Yes, I believe I do. In the last 30 years I have been very active in the art world, I have discovered a new type of power that art has. That is to say, when you look at the disparity between those who have and those who have not, the wealthy and the poor, urban and rural areas, there have been really big social issues. We have discovered a way to promote the development of local communities through art and that’s what I want to bring and introduce to the world.

Can the Benesse Art Site Naoshima concept be replicated in another part of the world?
I think it can be replicated, but probably not just anywhere. As long as there are good locations, communities and people.

How long do you think it will take for Southeast Asia to reach the same level?
Naoshima took about 30 years to reach its current stage. But when you look at our experience with other projects such as the Setouchi Triennale, which started in 2010, at the time, there were four new islands that participated in the first edition of the festival. Following that were five more islands for the second edition in 2013. And those projects and initiatives were successful from the start thanks to the experience we gained in Naoshima.

The Benesse Prize has been at the Venice Biennale for over 20 years. Why did you decide to shift the Benesse Prize to Singapore?
Singapore is definitely one of the centres of development in Asia. Asia has a lot of extremely wealthy people. I want to bring them in and try to promote a new form of capitalism.

I believe that the economy exists to create good communities where people can find happiness. To make this goal a reality, I am proposing a new management concept called public interest capitalism. Under this concept, corporations will establish foundations with the clear goal of promoting culture and regional community development — and entrust a sizeable portion of their shares to the foundations to ensure a stable funding for such activities through dividend revenues.

Through that, I want to contribute to the development of Asia and its local communities. I have done a lot in Japan already. Now I want to bring my message to other Asian nations. When it comes to local development, there is huge potential here.

Are the lines between the worlds of art, design and architecture blurring?
I think that’s possible but one other thing I would add to the mix is environment, which is extremely important. There should be harmony between the environment and any installation or artwork. There are things that suit cities and others that suit natural surroundings and rural areas. Then there are other types of artworks that suit a place such as Naoshima, which had previously become a badly damaged environment due to industrial activities in the region — despite being the first national park of Japan. I guess each environment calls for different types of installations. That’s why the environment is so important to art.

What do you want your life to be known for?
What I’d love to do is use art as a platform to build happy communities, where people can really live and be happy. Art initiatives in themselves are not the objective. Art can become the platform for it. I’m interested in communities that can become self-sufficient, in terms of food, energy, education and services, medical, welfare and so on. I think that’s really what we need. Art, as well as culture and history, can become a platform upon which a new type of local community can be built or preserved. That’s what I want to leave behind.

Recommended For You

Related Articles

Naoshima Art Site

Benesse House

Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto

Benesse House

Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto

View Less
Naoshima Art Site

Chichu Art Museum

Photo:FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa

Chichu Art Museum

Photo:FUJITSUKA Mitsumasa

View Less
Naoshima Art Site

Yayoi Kusama "Pumpkin"

Photo: Shigeo Anzai

Yayoi Kusama "Pumpkin"

Photo: Shigeo Anzai

View Less