Japanese Region Gives New Orleans $200G for Kid's Art Program

A region of Japan devastated by a 1995 earthquake donated $200,000 to the New Orleans Museum of Art to help this city's children cope with post-Hurricane Katrina devastation.

A troupe of Japanese street performers led school children through the museum's auditorium Wednesday to celebrate the donation, meant for art therapy sessions, field trips and special programs for children and their families.

"It is art, among other things, missed and needed by children in devastated areas who have sustained deep psychological wounds," said Masaru Sakato, the Consul General of Japan in New Orleans.

The donor, the Prefecture of Hyogo, knows well the struggles of recovering from a natural disaster and the toll it takes on children. A 7.3-magnitude earthquake ripped through Hyogo's port city of Kobe in 1995, killing nearly 6,500 people.

Like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the quake demonstrated the vulnerability of modern metropolises to natural disasters. The United States was among the countries that delivered relief to the Kobe area following the 1995 quake, and Wednesday's donation to the New Orleans Museum of Art was a small way the people of Japan wanted to give back, Sakato said.

After discussions with museum officials a year ago about New Orleans' needs following Katrina, the Prefecture of Hyogo agreed to help fund an art project dedicated to nurturing the creative and emotional well-being of New Orleans children.

"We believe that with its unique projects dedicated to the children, NOMA will play a special role in the recovery process of this region," Sakato said.

During Wednesday's ceremony, Japanese performers beat on drums, tooted horns and sang to children and others gathered at the museum. The group's performance, which included such Japanese instruments as a three-stringed guitar known as a samisen, was to bring the city luck, health, wealth and strength.

The group, called U-Stage, will perform at various schools and venues around the city through Friday.