The New York Times, February 22, 2006
Asia Society Plans Bold Projects to Increase Its Global Presence
By ROBIN POGREBIN
In an effort to increase its activities worldwide, the Asia Society is
to announce tomorrow a major repositioning of the organization that will
involve more than $100 million in new projects, including a $52 million
center in Hong Kong designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and a $40
million center in Houston by Yoshio Taniguchi. The plans are to be
presented at the society's 50th anniversary gala dinner at the
Waldorf-Astoria tomorrow evening.
''We want to change it from a New York institution with regional
branches into a global institution with a New York headquarters,'' said
Richard C. Holbrooke, the society's chairman and former ambassador to
the United Nations.
The new buildings will be regional cultural, policy and academic centers
meant to allow the society to deepen its relationships throughout Asia,
said Vishakha N. Desai, the society's president. ''When we didn't have a
building in Hong Kong, we were going to hotels and other locations to do
our programs. We couldn't bring all our activities under one roof.''
The various projects have been in the works for some time. Among them
are an Asia Society India Center, a $1.2 million office that will
provide policy and cultural programs, in Mumbai, formerly known as
Bombay. The center is to open on March 18, during the society's annual
corporate conference in Mumbai, this year titled ''Driving Global
Business: India's New Priorities, Asia's New Realities.''
A $5 million U.S.-China Center will open this fall in New York to
promote greater understanding of the relationship between the countries
by conducting research and distributing reports on critical issues,
developing programming aimed at educating the public, and encouraging
discussion between Chinese and American political and business leaders.
The center is being paid for by Arthur Ross, a New York philanthropist,
who also contributed about $3 million toward the society's endowment.
Other projects include a $1.5 million fellows program from Bernard L.
Schwartz, the departing chief executive of Loral Space and
Communications. The program will support full-time resident fellows at
the Asia Society with an eye toward shaping public understanding of
social and political developments in Asia.
In addition, Merrill Lynch is financing a $1 million ''Asia 21
Fellows'' program to bring together 25 young leaders from Asia (and a
few from the United States) for a series of conferences to tackle
emerging issues. On the cultural side, a grant of $275,000 from the
Getty Foundation will provide two fellows in Asian art each year with
practical curatorial training and museum-management skills. These
fellows will work with the society on exhibitions, catalogs and special
projects. Another program, financed with $900,000 from Morgan Stanley,
will support major exhibitions and performances at the Asia Society.
Programs in the series will also tour the United States and other countries.
Tomorrow's dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria has raised $4 million.
Ms. Desai said these initiatives represented an effort to realize the
organization's original principles as envisioned in 1956 by John D.
Rockefeller III. ''He had this idea, if you want to learn about that
part of the world, it has to be in a three-dimensional way,'' Ms. Desai
said in an interview. The Asia Society, which has its headquarters on
Park Avenue in Manhattan, was founded as a nonprofit, nonpartisan,
nongovernmental organization dedicated to fostering a greater
understanding of Asia through political discussion, culture and education.
''New York was the mother ship and we had little tentacles,'' Ms. Desai
said. ''In the 21st century, it's really about interconnections in
multiple ways. It's a mindset as much as a physical change.
''That's the model that we must develop further, to be a true
multinational organization,'' she added. ''It's about Asia and the
United States coming together to understand each other better.''
With the center in Hong Kong, the society is establishing a physical
anchor in Asia. Although the society has had an office there for 15
years, with the new structure it hopes ''to create scale,'' Ms. Desai
said, and a place where projects can originate. It will include gallery
and performance space and is expected to open in fall 2007. ''It becomes
our Asia hub,'' she said. Similarly, the Houston center will expand on
the society's work in that city, which has been going on some 25 years.
The building designed by Mr. Taniguchi -- the architect behind the New
York Museum of Modern's Art extensive renovation -- is expected to open
in 2008. The society also has regional offices in Washington, Manila,
Melbourne, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Shanghai. In connection with
the 50th anniversary, the society is presenting an exhibition in New
York that focuses on the Rockefeller family's contributions as Asian art
collectors. ''A Passion for Asia: The Rockefeller Family Collects,''
which opens Friday and runs through Sept. 3, includes 150 paintings,
sculptures and decorative works originally owned by the family.
The society also plans to step up its educational activities. It will
take a delegation of education leaders to India and hold a forum in
China on educational policy. A deeper understanding of Asia is no longer
merely beneficial, but essential, Ms. Desai said. People ought to think
to themselves, '''I don't know anything about that part of the world,
but I better, to be globally literate,' '' she said. ''This is not just
a nice idea. It's a necessity for the 21st century.''
with kind regards,
Matthias Arnold (Art-Eastasia list)
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