From Immigration to Art Appreciation: The Extraordinary Case of the Morikami Museum in Florida

By Ilaria Serra.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, is an outstanding example of public use of art and its connections with mass consumption, ethnicity and migration. The Morikami Museum was born out of a transnational experience, that of migration, which has been transformed into a real, large-scale, cultural encounter. The seeds of the museum were sown by the dream of a single settler, Jo Sakai, who established a short-lived Japanese colony in Palm Beach County in 1905. Today, only a street name remains from the original colony (Yamato Road), but its memory is protected in the heart of the Morikami Park, which houses one of the ghosts of Florida’s past. In this paper, I propose that the Morikami effectively functions as an ambassador of a foreign culture by way of a rich array of interactive events that surpass the aesthetic fruition of its art. Visitors are invited to “experience the essence of Japan” through hands-on experience, which is perhaps a Western adaptation to facilitate the cultural encounter. A sequence of theoretical questions is involved in the interpretation of this peculiar cultural site, born in Disney’s Florida: What image of Japan is being presented? What are members and patrons seeking? Where is this museum located in the landscape of Japanese art in the United States? And how can semiotician Roland Barthes help us analyze this interesting case?

Keywords: Museum, Ethnicity, Florida, Japan, Immigration, United States

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp.447-456. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.221MB).

Dr. Ilaria Serra

Assistant Professor, Program of Italian Studies, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA

Ilaria Serra is Assistant Professor in the Program of Italian Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Her research spans from Italian cinema and literature to the history of Italian immigration to the United States. She has recently published The Value of Worthless Lives: Writing Italian American Autobiographies (Fordham UP 2007). The Imagined Immigrant is the title of her next book, forthcoming with Farleigh Dickinson UP (2009).


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