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Profile on Courtney Ozaki - Creative Producer and Performing Arts Manager

Courtney Ozaki is an arts producer and administrator, community leader, and taiko player living and working in the Denver Metro Area. She is Director of Business Development for Dazzle, the Denver jazz institution that recently moved to Baur’s, a downtown venue in the theatre district.

Courtney’s diverse experience encompasses many disciplines of the arts—not limited to classical music, theatre, new works and the visual arts—and many projects across the country and beyond. She has worked at venues including Lone Tree Arts Center, the Joyce Theatre in NYC, Brooklyn Academy of Music, the PROTOTYPE Festival in NYC and Aspen Music Festival and on national tour with ballet dancer Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature. Courtney has also performed as taiko player in Dubai, at the North American Taiko Convention and extensively in the Front Range. Using her programming expertise and drawing upon a network of artists with whom she has cultivated relationships, Courtney has supported and connected many Japanese and Japanese American organizations in Colorado with a great variety of artists and their works.

Courtney is an alumna of the U.S.-Japan Council’s TOMODACHI Emerging Leadership Program and the Sakura Foundation’s Mirai Generations Leadership Program. She has also launched Next Gen JA—a monthly series of events for younger professionals and the “next generation” of the local Japanese American and adjacent communities. Currently, Courtney is actively developing a Japanese American Arts Network, a hub for cultural makers and artists. Courtney also happens to be my cousin and, along with my sisters, grew up training and performing taiko with One World Taiko—a group founded by Nancy Ozaki and Gary Tsujimoto (our aunt and uncle). The Ozaki girls later co-founded Mirai Daiko, an all-female taiko ensemble. As you may know, Courtney also curates and publishes JARCC’s monthly newsletter.

M: How did you get into your field?

C: I began my career in the arts working primarily in music. Music is my first love. My undergrad degree was in recording arts and music management so I moved from there into working in the classical music field--I was an artistic coordinator for a chamber orchestra in Boulder and then was working at Aspen Music Festival for a couple of summers. Through those initial opportunities, I really honed my passion for working in performing arts, [and found that] my degree was transferrable to that.

M: What inspired you to pursue performing arts management in graduate school?

C: I was craving the opportunity to build a foundation of knowledge and grow my skill sets so I could make a more meaningful impact upon the arts in Colorado. I was enjoying what I was doing, but I knew I eventually wanted to either create my own organization, or that I was going to want to work with a larger arts institution. I decided that in order to do that successfully, I'd need to go immerse myself in the arts in a place where I would gain the most valuable experience. I went to a school in New York City [Brooklyn College] and earned my masters in performing arts management while simultaneously working in the field.

M: You have a great diversity of experience within the performing arts world--from opera to dance to music--speak a bit about your experience. How did you get into producing performance?

C: While I was there [in graduate school in NYC], I was working in the interdisciplinary arts. I worked on the inaugural year of an opera theatre/musical theatre festival called the PROTOTYPE Festival and that introduced me to producing, which was a role I wasn't really familiar with until I went to New York. It seemed to speak to all my interests at once and made me excited about the possibility of doing something more in that area of work.

M: What drew you to producing?

C: Initially, I didn’t know what producing was—although I was already exploring my interest in that bezfore I went to graduate school. The taiko group that I formed with my cousins—Mirai Daiko—had produced our own show at Curious Theater in Denver in the year prior to my heading to New York.

M: Tell me about how you began working in professional dance.

C: After I completed graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with a dance theatre presenting house, The Joyce Theatre, in New York City, and an agency, Sunny Artist Management, out of Canada. The two organizations were brought together by an artist—Wendy Whelan. At the time, [Wendy] had been a principal dancer for New York City Ballet for many years. She was looking at how she wanted to transition her career as a dancer. Ms. Whelan brought a project idea to The Joyce and Sunny Artist Management for a show she’d like to produce with four male choreographers…of four duets with each of them and herself. Because neither The Joyce nor Sunny Artist Management had yet ventured into producing…they hired me as a project manager to help both organizations work together to produce the show, and eventually tour it.

M: That show was called Restless Creature. It later had a national tour (including a stop in Vail). Restless Creature was accompanied by a film crew who documented the process and released a movie of the same name about Whelan and her project in 2017. What brought you back home to Colorado?

C: I always knew that I wanted to come back home to Colorado. After around three years working with what at that point became known as Joyce Theater Productions to present and produce Restless Creature and another [dance] project, Intensio, I became aware of an opportunity with an arts center [in the Denver area] that was a presenting and producing organization—meaning that they have a season where they bring in artists to perform for one or two nights, while they also produce theatrical shows - building them from the ground up. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come back home while continuing to learn and grow.


M: Talk about your work in the community a bit. You have assisted and collaborated with a number of Japanese and Japanese American (JA) organizations to bring cultural programming from Japanese and JA performing artists. You’ve also developed your own JA networks: Next Gen JA and the Japanese Artists Network.

C: We’re trying to bring an awareness to and appreciation for Japanese principles, arts and culture to the Denver area in a multitude of ways. I've worked with the Sakura Foundation to bring Japanese and JA artists to Denver (including taiko artists KODO and On Ensemble) and I've partnered with groups like the Japanese American Association of Colorado (JAAC) and Mile High JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) to coordinate film-screenings, arrange for a museum exhibition visit from JANM (Japanese American National Museum), facilitate natto making/Japanese knife sharpening workshops, and more. I’ve started a monthly get-together of Next Generation Japanese Americans—without defining Japanese American as having Japanese lineage, but having a connection to Japan or Japanese culture in some way, shape or form. These monthly get-togethers are to make sure that our Next Generation community has a way to connect on a regular basis…and also to provide a platform where multiple generations can come together in community.

I’ve recognized that there is a need for some way to put [artistic] activity [in the Japanese and Japanese American cultural and arts world] under one umbrella for communities across the country to connect with it. I’ve started developing a Japanese Arts Network to provide resources both to “artists” looking to share their art and collaborate with other artists, and to those who are seeking a way to connect with the art. This network is not restricted to performing artists, but also includes visual artists and practitioners in martial arts, culinary arts, filmmakers, literary arts, fashion, etc. I want to do my part to provide the support for people who are creating or sharing Japanese culture through the arts, and to be a resource for those who are seeking it out.

Visit Restless Creature, Next Generation JA, and Japanese Arts Network “JA-NE”. for more information, or contact Courtney Ozaki directly at japaneseartsnetwork@gmail.com / www.linkedin.com/in/courtneyozaki.

 

*This article was originally published in the JARCC Entertainment & Culture Newsletter, February and March 2019 editions, and was edited for use on Discover Nikkei.

 

© 2019 Margaret Ozaki Graves

arts Colorado community JARCC music Next Gen JA One World Taiko performer performing arts taiko