“the supreme worth of the individual”
Not only a cultural foundation but an entire cultural movement, indeed, a whole civilization can be formed and shaped by one simple phrase: “I believe in the supreme worth of the individual.” These words, a favorite motto of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped inspire his son John D. Rockefeller 3rd to establish the Asian Cultural Program in 1963 with the express purpose of supporting cultural exchange between the countries of Asia and the United States through grants made to extremely talented individuals for work in the visual and performing arts and for projects in the humanities.
Artists, scholars, and researchers of diverse origins and disciplines reaped the benefits of those first grants—among them, most particularly and very close to Mr. Rockefeller’s heart, individuals devoted to preserving and documenting the traditional arts in Asia; to developing Asian cultural studies in American universities; and to presenting Asian cultural programs in the United States. It was not only because of Mr. Rockefeller’s “awareness of how much exposure to Asian culture… meant” to him and his family personally, but also because of his conviction that a rapidly shrinking world could jeopardize the very existence and authenticity of those traditions he valued. To that end he was determined to support individuals committed to carrying on those traditional art forms and to making that art and ultimately all art relevant in contemporary life.
“a form of insurance for the future”
From the outset Mr. Rockefeller and the trustees of The JDR 3rd Fund firmly believed that a select group of extremely talented individuals with an uncommon commitment to their crafts and to sharing their learning and experiences abroad could inform, enrich, and inspire their communities in unparalleled ways. As he would write upon the foundation’s thirteenth anniversary in 1975, “The fostering of cultural relations can be a form of insurance for the future of this dangerous but exciting world. Enhancing respect and admiration among peoples can go a long way in keeping the door open for ongoing communication and also be a rewarding experience for those involved on both sides.” And the key to success for the ACC’s unique program of cultural exchange lay in carefully selecting those individuals, closely advising them, and providing them with a peerless level of personal and intensive programming.
Fifty years later, the Asian Cultural Council—launched in 1980 to carry forward the mission of its predecessor, the Asian Cultural Program—continues to thrive, employing the same curatorial methodology, which remains its hallmark today and sets it apart from all other foundations. In fact, today the ACC distinguishes itself as the only organization in the world whose sole mission is to support cultural exchange between the United States and Asia and within the countries of Asia. Today the ACC counts among its alumni over 6,000 Asian and American artists, scholars, specialists in the arts, and cultural leaders in over twenty different fields and in more than twenty-five countries in Asia, and currently awards approximately one hundred grants annually. Today the ACC persists in the rapidly shrinking world John D. Rockefeller 3rd had presciently foreseen, ever informed by that same vision of transformative cultural exchange and by that signal notion of the “supreme worth of the individual.”
Headquartered in New York City, the ACC maintains offices in Hong Kong and Tokyo with partner foundations in Manila and Taipei. Today, it is both a grant-making and grant-seeking organization, raising funding from corporate, foundation, and individual donors in both the United States and Asia.
“a worthwhile end in its own right”
With over sixty percent of the world’s population presently living in Asia and the Asian economy expanding in unprecedented ways, the potential impact and reach of the Asian Cultural Council looms ever larger. Over thirty-five years ago, John D. Rockefeller 3rd observed that Americans “viewed international relations primarily in political and economic terms with comparatively little attention given to the cultural dimension.” The result, he wrote, “is that our world outlook has tended to be bound by our own culture instead of being broadened by a sensitivity to other cultures.” Those words are no less true today than they were in his day, and as valid as his belief that “enhanced knowledge of other cultures is a worthwhile end in its own right for its value in personal enrichment… and as a means to a further end—through knowledge and respect for other cultures we come to respect and appreciate the peoples themselves."
Fueled by this vision, the ACC’s Founding Director, Porter A. Mc Cray shepherded the organization towards advancing “international understanding through mutual respect for the cultural attainment of all peoples and through the nourishing of their artistic growth.” Like Mr. Rockefeller, he championed the notion that, “the national life of all countries can be enriched by learning from other cultures.”
Now more than ever, the vision of these early leaders and the mission of the Asian Cultural Council resonate powerfully with freshness and relevance. We invite you to join the Asian Cultural Council in this journey of cultural exchange, both for its inherent value and for how “the supreme power of the individual” in that process can form and shape an entire civilization—ours.