Here at True Colors Festival, we’re one big family of artists, creators and planners. This week we introduce Mariko Mori, festival producer of the True Colors Festival. She tells us all about planning and managing an arts festival through a lengthy pandemic — certainly not a straightforward job!
By True Colors Festival Team
Name: Mariko Mori
Accolades: Festival producer, True Colors Festival. Mariko directly oversees the planning and production of the True Colors Festival Series events, which are designed to generate excitement and engagement as the lead up to the global True Colors Concert. Her experience in international and community arts programs and festivals has deepened her commitment to creating experiences that connect people and communities.
Q: When did work begin on True Colors Festival 2020, and what was the starting point?
In the summer of 2018, the senior executive director and staff of The Nippon Foundation (TNF) shared their plans for implementing the True Colors Festival (TCF) in Tokyo 2020. I was told that TNF and TNF DIVERSITY IN THE ARTS, the team to which I belong, would be working together as co-organizers of the festival. We discussed how we would organize the festival, plan the budget, and began researching and engaging organizations that would be involved. We launched the festival with its first public event in the fall of 2019, an incredibly energetic street dance event involving amazing dancers from several countries including Japan, Canada, the US and Holland.
Q: How would you describe your role?
Together with fellow Producer Toru Aoki of TNF’s TCF team, I set policy and manage the budget for the entire festival. As a hub for a diverse group of people involved in the festival – including individuals, organizations, and participating artists – my role is to listen to the voices of each and coordinate to ensure that there are no conflicting directions.
Q: TCF was built from scratch. What was the process like?
It was both difficult and exciting starting a festival from scratch! This is one of the largest festivals I’ve been involved in so far. We started by setting up a team to produce and operate each program, a team to promote publicity, and a secretariat. Rather than a one-stop operation, we created a composite team of specialists from various fields. And since the festival is focused on themes of accessibility enrichment and diversity, the creation of an advisory panel of experts with that perspective was also important.
I work closely with Toru Aoki to make countless operational decisions on the ground. We also work closely with Audrey Perera, the executive producer, and Ichiro Kabasawa, the senior executive producer, to make strategic and more ‘big picture’ decisions. I think we are able to make decisions much more flexibly and quickly than in a normal organization or festival management situation. It took about a year from the start of full-scale work towards 2020 to building the organization and making the first press announcement.
Q: How were the True Colors Festival Series (lead-up) events chosen?
We worked with involved organizations and groups to come up with the final series of events over a period of about six months. We expanded the scope of the Series by inviting a variety of individuals to participate as well. We wanted the festival to embrace diversity, and showcase various genres including music, dance, theater, circus, fashion show, and more.
Q: How challenging was it to find the right producers?
Some of the producers we had worked with before, and others we met during the team-building process, so it was challenging to find the right producers in a short time. However, all of them had either worked with people with disabilities or had created productions with a diverse and inclusive perspective, so they all understood the purpose of the festival from the beginning and we were able to entrust each program to them.
Q: How do you feel about the two postponements, having done so much of work, and having brought so many partners and personnel on board?
At the time of the first postponement, there was ambiguity about what to do next, and how to interpret the spread of the then-new coronavirus. There were many things to consider such as whether it was possible to invite artists from overseas to perform in Japan since the situation differed from country to country. As the situation evolved, we struggled to come up with contingency plans B, C, D, and so on. When the word “cancellation” first crossed my mind, I was very disappointed and anxious; what would happen to all the preparations we had made? But we did what we had to and everyone worked quickly to inform the public and the necessary follow-up was put into place. We were able to stay positive because everyone involved was unanimous in their intention to continue with the festival.
The second postponement – of the global True Colors Concert – from August 2021 until a date in late-2022 has just been decided. I feel it is the right decision because we still don’t know how long the effects of the coronavirus will last. We could have held the concert this year online, but we really want to present a ‘live’ concert in an environment where performers and audiences can enjoy it safely.
The difference between the first postponement and the second is that the second takes the festival beyond the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. This means that the significance of TCF will be increasingly tested and felt in the future.
Q: Most important lesson learnt from the experience of organizing so much and then having it cancelled?
To always revisit your aims and principles, no matter how social conditions and circumstances change. The summer of 2020 saw the whole country gearing up for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and TCF was part of this social wave. While this interplay was important, it was easy to lose sight of the purpose of each event in the face of the ”Summer 2020” deadline. At the time, I felt as if COVID-19 had thrown cold water on us. But while it was really regrettable that we had to postpone, it was a good opportunity for us to find ways to deepen the relevance of TCF.
Q: Takeaways from creating arts events during an evolving pandemic situation?
- Always have several options in hand.
- Embrace the possibility of postponement or cancellation.
- Keep thinking of ways to make our online events more impactful.
- Keep aiming to increase accessibility for people with disabilities and audiences with different languages as more and more events are held online around the world, technology develops and new values are created.
Q: How has this experience been like a life lesson?
I’ve been reminded of the reality that people will always be exposed to events beyond our control, from natural disasters to man-made disasters such as war. We are always at risk from a variety of diseases. Because of this awareness of life and death, I personally want to cherish every single thing in front of me, my daily life, my family, and my work. This is the only thing I can do. In the midst of a crisis, it is important to do what is close to us, carefully and persistently. By doing so, we will be able to see the next direction for ourselves.
Q: The TCF message is “One World, One Family” – what does this mean to you personally?
Thinking of people living in different backgrounds and environments, from people far away, whom we cannot even imagine, to our neighbors. To think that one person’s life could be my life, and my life could be someone else’s. I believe that this imagination is what can be shared and experienced through the performing arts.