New View: Emiko Ono

By In Dance


What brought you to the Bay Area?
My first move to the Bay Area was to attend UC Berkeley.

I spent my first year in a state of culture shock. The Bay Area and Berkeley, in particular, were tremendously different than what I had experienced growing up in Huntington Beach, CA. Despite needing to adjust to my new environment, I loved the diversity and vibrancy of the region and remained in the Bay Area for nearly ten years. Then, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a dream job at the Natural History Museum where I started an arts education partnership program to deepen visitors’ understanding of nature and culture. Working with twenty exemplary arts organizations opened my eyes to the issues that afflicted organizations of all disciplines and sizes. This left me wondering about how to strengthen the arts sector as a whole, and led to my interest in arts philanthropy and grantmaking positions at the Arts Council for Long Beach and Los Angeles County Arts Commission. I feel incredibly fortunate to be back in the Bay Area and serving as a program officer with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The Foundation has an enduring value for providing performing arts organizations with multiyear general operating support, which organizations need most in order to tackle those persistent issues and maintain the cultural vibrancy that makes the Bay Area unique.

What event(s) will we find you at this season?
I am making a special effort to get out to participatory arts events. My educational background is in anthropology, so my natural inclination is to be an observer. However, with the radical shifts in artistic consumption and creation happening today, I am pushing myself to explore what it means to put active participation at the center of my own arts experiences. This means you might find me in a hula class, pop-up chorus, or interactive theatre experience. Providing opportunities for people to make art are one the most potent ways artists and organizations are assuring they are building connections with, and enthusiasm for, their art forms. My feeling is that active engagement is important for two reasons. It exposes people to the joy and enrichment of art-making and builds and, by bringing people together, it strengthens our sense of community. This is the great value of the art, that it is both highly personal and deeply connective.

What’s your favorite Bay Area institution?
The quantity and variety of high-quality art available in the Bay Area is remarkable. It’s the rare place where you can listen to a gamelan orchestra, see modern dance, and participate in a sing-along of sea chanteys all in the same week. When I think about how I spend my time at arts events, I look for a collection of experiences that will provide me with the widest range of what is happening the Bay Area. I balance my experiences between the large and mid-size organizations and community-based centers, which are often doing extraordinary work serving particular communities, whether they are defined by geography, identity, or both. It’s no wonder that the Bay Area enjoys the highest arts participation rates in California, with 66% of adults attending at least one arts event annually compared to 52% statewide.

First dance/performing arts memory?
My earliest arts memory is of ballet lessons taught to me at the city recreation center in my hometown. I cherished my light blue leotard and ballet shoes, and was eager to spend time with my incredibly sweet ballet teacher. Looking back, I recall that the classroom was less than ideal for dance, with carpet and stairs spanning the room, but that did not deter from my positive experience. My teacher was very encouraging and that helped to fuel many more years of ballet lessons. Fortunately, my family had the ability to financially support my interest and the time to regularly shuttle me to and from classes. My enthusiasm was enriched with occasional dance performances and after seeing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre for the first time, I was certain I would dance for them someday. Luckily for Alvin Ailey I had other interests that I could fall back on. However, I often wonder if I would have a career in the arts if I had not experienced that first dance lesson at Murdy Park. Sadly, many children today have little to no access to arts education due to its serious decline in schools. We know from research that arts education provides a wide range of positive educational outcomes and that, as in my experience, it also assures future arts participation.

Emiko Ono serves as a program officer in The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program. In this role, she manages a diverse portfolio across the full range of grants that the Program makes. Ms. Ono came to the Foundation from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, where she managed a portfolio of 350 grantees from all artistic disciplines with budgets ranging from $5,000 to more than $10 million. Earlier in her career, she served as director of grant and professional development programs for Arts Council Long Beach, and prior to that she was manager of education initiatives and partnerships for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Ms. Ono graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and later earned a master of science in education from the Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

This article appeared in the March 2012 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.