JUSFC Meet our Grantees Series: MarkSearch Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas — Cultural Researchers

February 21, 2017 

Cultural researchers Sue Mark and Bruce Douglas of MarkSearch were awarded the Creative Artist Exchange Fellowship in 2016 and traveled to Japan in May 2016 for a six-month residency. Sue and Bruce are passionate about experiencing different ways of living and viewing the world through another perspective. They do this by viewing people and places through their creative lens.

They are no strangers to living abroad. In 2013, they traveled to Portugal to research the disappearance of handicraft and agricultural practices in a region comprising 26 villages. When they learned they would be living in Japan, they began intensive Japanese study. While Bruce learned to read and write, Sue worked on conversation and listening comprehension. With their combined Japanese language skills, they were able to communicate with Japanese locals.

Their main goal while in Japan was to learn about how architectural traditions are shared over time, and how these traditions may change as time goes on. Their creative process blends artistic, visual and performative work with sociology and anthropology.  Sue and Bruce made Kanazawa, Ishikawa their home in Japan. Kanazawa is one of the few Japanese cities that was not destroyed during World War II or harmed by any natural disaster. Much of the traditional architecture — such as the Machiya, traditional townhouses from the Edo period (1603-1867) — are still intact. These historic homes function as both residences and businesses. Sue and Bruce were interested in understanding local policies and the process of Machiya renovation, especially because more than 200 Machiya in Kanazawa are subject to destruction each year.

During their time in Kanazawa, Sue and Bruce worked and lived with a creative couple in a Machiya named Sanki Bunko. The couple had bought and converted the Machiya from a restaurant to a library, cafe and gallery. Through them, Sue and Bruce were able to meet a variety of people, including architects involved with renovating Machiya historians, city planners, and artisans. They also had the opportunity to meet the former mayor of Kanazawa, who, during his 20-year tenure, was responsible for transforming the city into a cultural landmark. In addition, they met with the director of a unique school that teaches traditional building techniques to those in the construction industry interested in this specialty.

“The Creative Artists Fellowship has been transformative for each of us in different ways,” Sue noted. “It was such a pleasure to have the freedom to explore and not feel tied to producing a specific output. We will continue to learn from it for many years.”

After returning to Oakland, California, Bruce and Sue promptly began preparing for a new two-year project to create an accessible archive in a local library. “Our research concepts from Japan will help a great deal with this project,” Bruce said.  When asked about advice for future grantees, they recommend doing your research and developing good contacts before traveling to Japan.

In the near future, MarkSearch plans to host an open house to showcase their research and experience with the Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship. They have also been invited to return to Japan in the Fall of 2018 to be artists in residence with the 21st Century Museum.

“We’re really excited to return to Japan,” Sue said. “We miss our life there! We left behind many deep relationships that we want to maintain.”

For more information on Bruce and Sue’s experience in Japan, please visit the project website. MarkSearch’s official website can be found here as well as their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship is funded by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and administered in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. If you are or know someone who might be interested in this program, please visit our website for more information on the application process.