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New JCCC President and Board Chair Chris Hope says he is honoured to accept the voluntary role “to help to define the future of an organization that has meant so much to [his] family and the community.” Photo credit: Kelly Fleck.
TORONTO — Yonsei lawyer and producer Chris Hope‘s earliest memories of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre were visits alongside his grandmother, Nancy Okura.
While Okura prepared for the Caravan festival with the Hifumi Steppers or practiced enka singing, Hope would explore the centre or cheer on his uncle in the dojo, a member of the Shito Ryu Itosukai Karate Club.
And it was Okura who brought Hope back to the JCCC as an adult. While studying at Osgoode Hall Law School, Hope started work on a documentary about Okura’s life through the Japanese Canadian internment and Second World War called Hatsumi. The documentary follows Hope and Okura as they retrace her life on the West Coast, in internment sites, and her struggle to talk about the past.
To research the film, Hope extensively explored the JCCC’s historical archives to fill in the gaps in his family story. Finding tremendous support for the project from the JCCC’s staff and volunteers, Hope joined the centre’s heritage committee and then later the JCCC board. After serving on the board for several terms, Hope was voted in as the new JCCC board chair and president following the centre’s AGM on Sept. 26.
“It’s an honour to accept the voluntary role of board chair and president to help to define the future of an organization that has meant so much to my family and the community,” Hope tells Nikkei Voice in an interview.
Hope is a lawyer, MBA, and chartered corporate director, with a specialty in not-for-profit governance. He has served on the JCCC board in multiple capacities over the last decade, from treasurer to capital campaign chair, he is a member of the JCCC Foundation board, has been a member of multiple committees, and co-founded the Toronto Japanese Film Festival at the JCCC in 2011 alongside Executive Director James Heron. Hope is excited to take on the role during a time of inflection as the centre adapts and re-emerges in a (nearly) post-pandemic world.
“Organizations everywhere are going through a period of reinvention… Post-pandemic, people are seeing past a lot of the barriers that were stalling us before because many of those barriers now seem irrelevant after we’ve come through so much hardship. People have embraced technologies that they never would have touched before, and the role of the centre as a warm and welcoming gathering place has never been more important to the community,” says Hope. “We have a unique window of opportunity to harness a lot of positive energy and to focus it on what we want the centre to become.”
To harness this excitement, the board underwent an extensive strategic planning process to align itself with a cohesive mission and vision that accurately represents how the board envisions the centre’s future. This future is reflected in the centre’s new vision, “to enrich lives globally through the celebration of Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian heritage.” And in its mission to “promote understanding, inclusion, and friendship by sharing the Japanese Canadian experience and traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.”
The centre will retain its original 1963 motto of friendship through culture, with the revised mission emphasizing a focus that balances Japanese Canadian heritage and sharing and celebrating traditional and contemporary Japanese culture, like food, film, and sports, with all generations and communities.
The new mission aims to broaden the centre’s community, reach new audiences, and appeal to the next generation of Japanese Canadians who will be part of the centre. This includes shin-Nikkei (all postwar Japanese immigrants) to ensure they feel like they are not only welcomed in the centre but a key part of its future.
By promoting contemporary and traditional Japanese culture, the vision hopes to engage the Yonsei and Gosei generations, who may feel untethered to their cultural identities, and provide them with access to learn about their Japanese Canadian heritage and history. And it extends further yet, to the broader population with an interest in all things Japanese.
The vision and mission reflect and continue much of the work the centre has been doing for the last decade, celebrating Japanese culture while teaching visitors about Japanese Canadian heritage, says Hope. Programs like the Toronto Japanese Film Festival bring thousands of people into the centre to enjoy contemporary Japanese films and invites visitors to stay and learn about Japanese Canadian heritage and history.
“We need to share and preserve the values of the people that built the JCCC. By strategically engaging new Japanese culture to do so, I think we’re fulfilling the goals of the founders of the original centre, and the new mission and vision are this generation’s articulation of ‘friendship through culture’,” says Hope. “This is truly what friendship through culture looks like when we have people coming through the door and saying, ‘wow, I had no idea about Japanese Canadian history. I was just here to see this new art exhibition or Japanese film.’ That, to me, is a marker of success.”
The JCCC’s mission aims to position the centre as a global hub for Japanese culture by widening its lens on the Nikkei diaspora, pursuing broad partnerships, and enabling everyone to participate and learn about Japanese Canadian and Japanese culture and heritage. One of the ways the JCCC has already been doing this is with its new permanent exhibit, Maru: Immigration Stories.
The exhibition focuses on the stories of Nikkei as they dispersed across the Americas. To create the exhibit, the centre connected and worked with Nikkei diaspora communities around the world. Maru is also fully interactive and available through the Google Arts & Culture portal where it has reached a global audience. The pandemic has highlighted the centre’s ability to offer programs online, and Maru has proven its potential to reach new audiences around the world.
“I think we have a real chance at this moment to draw a much broader general audience,” says Hope. “It all comes down to positioning. We need to communicate that the JCCC is the home in the GTA, in Canada, in North America, for authentic, contemporary, Japanese cultural experiences, and also learning about Japanese Canadian history and how they fit together.”
As the centre embarks on this journey of growth, the board’s first priority will be “to review and update the JCCC’s policies to ensure that every one of the centre’s volunteers, staff, management, and board members will continue to enjoy a protected, positive and supportive work environment,” says Hope. He encourages the community to reach out if they’re interested in getting involved and re-engaging with the centre.
As Hope steps into the top role on the board, he feels supported by a knowledgeable board of directors from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and professions.
“The JCCC is very lucky to have such a supportive group of experts on the board who are so willing to provide assistance in their broad-ranging areas of specialty,” he says.
Hope acknowledges the big shoes he’s stepping into as president. Gary Kawaguchi, who served on the board in numerous capacities over 30 years and as chair and president for 13 years, is leaving the role with solid building blocks in place to support a new generation of growth, says Hope.
“We’re in a position where we can join the rebirth happening right now throughout society and among cultural organizations specifically. Yes, we have new debt that we need to manage thanks to the pandemic, but our governance is in good shape, the board is 100 per cent aligned with our new mission and vision, and everyone is really excited to move ahead with everything that always made the JCCC a great place to be, along with developing an incredibly ambitious slate of new initiatives,” says Hope.
“Stepping into the role of president and having the privilege of being able to focus almost immediately on growth is a direct result of the efforts of so many that have worked so hard and have given so much—right back to the 75 families that mortgaged their own homes to secure the loan to build the original JCCC. I will never take that for granted for a second.”
To get involved or learn more about the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, visit www.jccc.on.ca.
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