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On the blog: Reflecting on cultural exchange

May 29, 2013
by Jeremy Altman, President, Rapid City Nikko City Sister City Association

The Japan Sister City Organization in Rapid City will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. A fair achievement as far as sister city organizations go. But it is certainly not long when compared to the time required to form the granite which Masayuki-san will carve, nor when compared to how long the sculptures will last after they are completed. Yet they are both concerned with the long term. As the name of the project implies, Wind and Water are sculptural forces of slow erosion. They give shape to their medium over the long passage of time. For Masayuki-san it must seem like a geological age too, to spend years on a single project. When he departs, he will leave behind a gift to our community that will out-live all of us.

Maybe for some it seems strange that a non-Rapid Citian, non-South Dakotan artist hailing from California and originally from Japan should be the one engaged in this endeavor. After all, it involves researching our community, our history and our essence and combining it with art to realize a literal monument in the center of our downtown that will represent us to future visitors and even to ourselves. Perhaps it is not so strange when we consider that it may be easier for Masayuki-san to discern what is unique about this place when he is looking at it with fresh eyes. It brings up questions which the sister city organization often faces in our yearly exchanges.

Every year we send students to Nikko, our sister city in Japan, for about two weeks. And every year they also send students here. Each city takes turns every other year sending adult delegations for about a week. An exciting prospect each year with our exchanges, as it surely will be with Masayuki's public art, will be to answer: What will we learn about ourselves by seeing how an outsider experiences our community? Is it easier to notice what is similar or what is different when you visit a new place or new culture? Do we gravitate towards one more than the other?

I wonder how Masayuki-san will be affected by staying in our city for so long. What memories will he take of the people of Rapid City? We must consider how we want him to feel when he thinks back to his Rapid City years. In this exchange, we are all his host family. We as a community will be affecting his life and his character, even as he is giving to us and affecting our community.

I have no doubt, this long-term project combined with his long-term vision will surely also unveil characteristics of this community which are universal. Perhaps we will be able to hear a love of family and friends, a connection to nature and a transient existence on this earth somehow speaking to us in the voice of carved stone. Such is the nature of art that it will evoke many interpretations – as well it should. But I find that our sister city exchanges do evoke a recognition of our core commonality; at least at some level. And when we can recognize that -  we also realize that none of us can be an outsider, not really. The differences that separate us, which are sometimes fun, sometimes frightening; melt away when we take the long term view.

By the end of the project, I'm sure we will come to know Masayuki-san as the kindred spirit to our community he is sure to be. We'd like to extend and open invitation to him to drink some beer and sing some karaoke sometime – as citizens who have gone on our adult exchanges can tell you: it's another sure fire way to make the differences that separate us melt away.

Jeremy Altman

Rapid City Nikko City Sister City Association - President


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