Local Hero: Nobuko Miyamoto | KCET
Local Hero: Nobuko Miyamoto
"I believe the arts are a powerful way to deepen relations among our diverse communities and better how we live on Mother Earth."
In a city where cultures often collide, Nobuko Miyamoto, artistic director and founder of Great Leap, has set out to harmonize relations through the use of the performing arts.
Initially, Ms. Miyamoto founded Great Leap in 1978 to fill the lack of creative productions that addressed Asian American culture. At the time, no such organization served that purpose in Los Angeles. This groundbreaking move gave the region's Asian American community a new voice in musical theatre and stage productions with productions such as "Chop Suey" and "Journey in Three Movements." Creative workshops for the youth and adults were introduced. Ms. Miyamoto also recorded "Best of Both Worlds," a solo album that told the Asian American story.
Then came the Los Angeles Riots in 1992. After she witnessed the tension that the riots triggered, Ms. Miyamoto decided to address the issue. She took what could be considered a great leap and introduced a variety of cultures and faiths to the organization's creative repertoire . What resulted was the Great Leap of today - a multicultural arts organization which uses art as both performance and creative practice to deepen relations among people of diverse cultures and faiths. The touring show, "A Slice of Rice" became "A Slice of Rice, Frijoles, and Greens." Creative workshops such as "Memories of Boyle Heights," brought together Latinos, Jewish and Japanese people. Ms. Miyamoto's second solo album, "To All Relations," followed suit as well.
With 35 years of leading Great Leap, Ms. Miyamoto's impassioned reaction to the issues of today continues at age 73. After the attacks on Sept. 11, she developed "Art of Weaving Faiths," a creative workshop that brought people of different faiths together that helped heal the wounds of the tragedy. Environmental issues are another hot topic. Ms. Miyamoto launched environmentally themed performances and three music videos, such as "BYO Chopsticks," which was inspired by the throwaway chopsticks found at Asian restaurants, and "Cycles of Change," which encouraged the use of cycling rather than driving.
Remarkably, Ms. Miyamoto has selflessly volunteered countless number of hours to Great Leap. Although she is artistic director and founder of Great Leap, she is classified as a part-time employee. Ms. Miyamoto would rather apply any additional funds to foster new talent, hire administrators and apply monies to Great Leap's exceptional residency and mentorship programs, such as COLLABORATORY, a series of eight-week artist mentorship programs culminating in performances with a community theme. She also donates her talent to developing arts organizations, such as Los Angeles' Vietnamese American arts group, Club 'O Noodles.
Ms. Miyamoto's experience as a songwriter, choreographer, dancer, actor and performer spans more than 50 years. She has performed on Broadway and in films such as "King and I" and "West Side Story." She discovered her own voice as an activist and a singer in the 1970s, when she co-created the first album of Asian American songs, "A Grain of Sand." Ms. Miyamoto has taught and led workshops at many universities, including UCLA and Columbia University Teachers College. Ms. Miyamoto has received several awards, including the California Arts Council Director's Award in 2006 and the Ford Foundation's Leadership for a Changing World award in 2003.