Executive Leadership Profiles
Stephen D. Bloom, Chief Executive Officer
Steve Bloom has led Portland Japanese Garden as CEO since 2005 and has transformed not only the landscape of Portland but the international field of Japanese gardens and the global conversation around the art and importance of cultural diplomacy. Bloom’s visionary approach promotes the belief that at the intersection of the built, natural, intellectual, and creative environments, humanity can achieve better mutual understanding. Through the creation of Portland Japanese Garden’s curatorial department – which oversees more than 200 events annually and has kept its grounds in world-class condition – Bloom has proven that cultural landscapes can be a platforms that use art, design, nature, dialogue, diplomacy, and knowledge to evolve societal attitudes and tolerances towards a more peaceful world.
Bloom is also responsible for the creation of Japan Institute, a sibling organization of Portland Japanese Garden with a vision of being the leading global platform outside Japan for sharing the nation’s greatest gifts with the world, including its culture, art, design, and unique connection to nature. Japan Institute, established in 2022, is based in Portland, but presents programming on six continents across the globe. It is comprised of three centers: The International Japanese Garden Training Center, The Global Center for Culture & Art, and The International Exchange Forum. Through the International Exchange Forum, Bloom paved the path for its signature series of Peace Symposia titled “Peacemaking at the Intersection of Culture, Art, and Nature”, which have engaged notable and prestigious individuals and organizations such as Japan’s Imperial Family and the Nobel Peace Center.
Bloom is currently leading Japan Institute’s Path to Peace Campaign, raising $30M to purchase and transform a former Salvation Army property in Northwest Portland into a world class campus that brings gardeners, artists, designers, performers, practitioners, craftspeople, and scholars from Japan and around the world to learn and teach their crafts. The restoration of the Japan Institute campus will reimagine a 1914 building designed by Portland’s most important architect, A.E. Doyle, including the renovation of a former chapel into a state-of-the-art theater in collaboration with Bullseye Glass and renowned architect, Kengo Kuma. This is first-ever work in art glass by Kuma, and the theater will be the jewel in the crown of this amazing complex.
Bloom has a successful track record of convening people from all around the world, beyond his work with Japan Institute’s Peace Symposia. In 2018, he brought the International Japanese Garden Conference to Portland – the largest of its kind ever held in the world. In 2022, he did the same with the national conference of the American Public Gardens Association. Bloom’s unwavering commitment and strategic ways of bringing people together was perhaps best demonstrated through his leadership of the Cultural Crossing Project at Portland Japanese Garden in 2017.
The Cultural Crossing Project was an endeavor that saw the opening of a new $37M Cultural Village designed by Kengo Kuma. Bloom was instrumental in recruiting the highly sought-after and prolific architect to the project, which would historically become Kuma’s first public project in North America. This project changed the landscape of architecture for Portland and Oregon, as it won more than 20 local, national, and international design awards and recognitions, and was selected by Architectural Digest as the best designed building project in the history of the State of Oregon. This project has led the way for numerous new Kuma projects in Oregon and across North America, significantly influencing the architectural portfolio of the continent. The Cultural Crossing Project made Portland a destination for architectural tourism, attracting designers and enthusiasts from around the world, and making Portland Japanese Garden the number one tourist attraction in the city of Portland.
Bloom was a 2008-09 Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in Japan, and concurrently served as Visiting Scholar at Tokyo University of Agriculture. He served as the first Fellow in the history of the program to focus on cultural landscapes as a tool for foreign relations. Following and resulting from his fellowship in Japan, Bloom was the architect of the North American Japanese Garden Initiative which over the past decade has: 1) brought together for the first time in history, the international Japanese garden field through the creation of the North American Japanese Garden Association, of which he served as founding Board President; 2) established the International Japanese Garden Training Center at Portland Japanese Garden, training practitioners from around the globe on the specialized skills of design, construction, and maintenance of Japanese gardens; and 3) created the Japanese Garden Library and Resource Center, which has amassed the second largest Japanese garden library collection in the world, second only to Tokyo Agriculture University.
Bloom has received multiple accolades for his contributions that transcend borders. In 2022, Bloom was the recipient of the Kaneko Kentaro Award by the America-Japan Society for his longstanding contributions to advancing the relationship between the United States and Japan. In 2020, Bloom and Portland Japanese Garden received the American Public Gardens Association’s highest honor, the Garden Excellence Award, selected as the top public garden of its peers of 600 public gardens in more than 20 countries. In 2018, on the occasion of its 100th Anniversary, the Garden Society of Japan bestowed for the first time ever to a foreigner, honorary membership to Bloom because of his outstanding achievements in the promotion of Japanese gardens worldwide. For his promotion of Portland’s visitor industry, Bloom was presented the “2017 Portland Award” by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. In 2015, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it was awarding the Foreign Minister’s Commendations in Honor of the 70th anniversary of the End of World War II. The award was given to individuals and groups with outstanding achievements in the promotion of friendship between Japan and the United States. Bloom was awarded this prestigious recognition along with only 27 other individuals.
Bloom’s vision for excellence, inclusion, and collaboration has not only brought world-class design to Oregon and North America but has inspired dialogue between peoples and across cultures about the importance of culture, art, and nature in bringing lasting harmony and peace to ourselves and each other.
Bloom was a 2008-09 Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in Japan, sponsored by Hitachi, and concurrently served as Visiting Scholar at Tokyo University of Agriculture. Following his fellowship in Japan, Bloom led an effort to create the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) of which he served as its Founding Board President. Presented by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Bloom is the recent recipient of the “2017 Portland Award” recognizing greatest overall contribution to the promotion of Portland’s visitor industry. On the occasion of its 100th Anniversary, the Garden Society of Japan bestowed Honorary Membership to Bloom in recognition of outstanding achievements in the promotion of Japanese Gardens worldwide. In 2022, Bloom was honored with the Kaneko Kentaro Award by the America-Japan Society in recognition of his longstanding contributions to grassroots exchanges between Japan and the United States. In 2023, he was the recipient of the Oregon Consular Corps (OCC) Ambassador Award because of his contributions to Oregon’s economic vitality and quality of life.
Lisa Christy, Executive Director
Lisa Christy is a specialist in understanding audiences and how best to communicate with them. Christy, who ascended to the role of Executive Director of Portland Japanese Garden in 2024, previously served as the Chief External Affairs Office at Portland Japanese Garden, overseeing Membership, Marketing, Communications, and Community Relations. Christy came to the Garden in 2014 as Director of Marketing and Communications at an auspicious time in its history: the organization was about to embark on an historic expansion led by world-renowned architect, Kengo Kuma.
During her tenure at the Garden, Lisa Christy grew the department seven times over, oversaw a comprehensive rebranding for the Garden, and directed the Garden’s expansion communications plan that yielded national & international press. She has expanded the organization’s community access programs for underserved populations, established a comprehensive digital strategy, and has driven record-setting admission for the Garden year over year – even during construction.
Prior to working for Portland Japanese Garden, Christy worked at premiere advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy for nine years where she helped guide award winning advertising campaigns such as Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and Proctor & Gamble’s “Thank you, Mom” Olympic campaign, in addition to Starbucks, Sony, and Travel Oregon. Christy also worked at OLSON advertising agency in Minneapolis, MN and Bernstein-Rein in Kansas City, MO.
As the daughter of professors in education and advertising, Christy believes passionately in giving back to the industry through education. In addition to her agency work, she was a full-time instructor at the University of Tennessee where she was awarded Lecturer of the Year. She has also consulted and guest lectured on marketing, communications, and media strategy for universities and professional groups throughout the United States. Christy holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Middle Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in advertising from Michigan State University. She currently lives in Portland with her husband and son who loves baseball.
Akihito Nakanishi, Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art, and Education
Akihito Nakanishi is a cultural leader and public diplomacy expert with 19 years of experience in government relations, public communication, artistic exchanges, and cultural programming in Japan.
For 10 years, Nakanishi served as the Cultural Affairs Specialist at the United States Embassy, Tokyo, where he oversaw a wide spectrum of embassy involvement in cultural, creative, and educational activities designed to enhance mutual understanding between the United States and Japan. In addition to being the principal advisor to the Mission’s Cultural Attaché, he also served as a cultural advisor to Ambassadors with the responsibility of directly overseeing some of the Ambassadors’ cultural and education projects such as “Ties Over Time” (under Amb. John V. Roos) and “International Poetry Exchange Project” (under Amb. Caroline B. Kennedy).
Prior to working for the Embassy, Nakanishi worked for three years as Program Director at one of the major media corporations in Tokyo, followed by a role as Exhibition Director for four years at a family-owned museum. Drawing upon this extensive knowledge of the arts, he has worked as an independent art director, producing exhibitions and art fairs (Art Photo Tokyo 2016), co-producing literary events and festivals (Tokyo International Literary Festival, 2012-2018), writing dossiers for arts events in specialty publications and newspapers (Bijutsu Techo, Kobe Shimbun), all while running his own non-profit organization for regional revitalization and youth empowerment, echovisions.
For his work at the Embassy, Nakanishi has received multiple State Department Awards including the State Department Meritorious Honor Award (May 2010), U.S. Embassy Japan Eagle Award (October 2011), and the U.S. Mission Japan Honor Award (October 2016).
Hugo Torii, Garden Curator
Hugo Torii is the Garden Curator at Portland Japanese Garden, making him the 10th to take on this critical role since the Garden opened in 1967. As Garden Curator, Torii helps to keep Portland Japanese Garden true to its original intent and design, while also allowing it to grow and evolve. Torii oversees a team of gardeners and in working with the Chief Curator, is actively involved in the process of all Garden maintenance, keeping in mind the short term needs as well as longer term implications.
Prior to becoming the Garden Curator, Torii spent more than 2 years as the Director of Grounds Maintenance, overseeing the physical aspects of Portland Japanese Garden, its maintenance, and development. In this role, he started several projects that he continues in his current role as the Garden Curator, including building a training structure for the gardening team and starting an exchange program with gardeners from other notable gardens, to continue to position Portland Japanese Garden as a leader and key resource in preserving the art of Japanese gardening.
With a master’s degree in Landscape Design from the Kyoto University of Art and Design, Torii brings a background of studies and experience in both Japanese gardens, Japanese aesthetics in horticulture, and floristry. Prior to his roles at Portland Japanese Garden, Torii spent over three years at Peter Berg Landscape Design in Rheinland Pfalz, Germany, and 12 years at the prominent UEYAKATO LANDSCAPE Co. Ltd., as a gardener and landscape architect in Kyoto, Japan. During this time, Torii managed projects including the Japanese garden and greeneries for the nearly 60-acre Keihanna Commemorative Park, the strolling pond garden at the Yosui-en Garden, and annual maintenance of pine trees at Nijo Castle, a World Heritage Site listed by UNESCO.
Sadafumi Uchiyama, Curator Emeritus
Sadafumi (Sada) Uchiyama is Curator Emeritus of Portland Japanese Garden. Before his retirement, Uchiyama served as Chief Curator from 2021 to 2023. Uchiyama had served as Garden Curator of Portland Japanese Garden from 2008 to 2021, during which time he helped to create and integrate the Cultural Crossing Expansion Project. Uchiyama also served as a member on the Garden’s Board of Trustees from 2003 to 2007. He was also Director of Japan Institute’s International Japanese Garden Training Center.
A fourth-generation Japanese gardener from southern Japan, Uchiyama is devoted to fostering relations between Japanese gardens in Japan and those outside of Japan. He has been involved in the development of the North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) and serves as a Charter Member of its board and programming board.
In 2022, Uchiyama was awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation from Foreign Ministry of Japan, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Japanese government, given to those with outstanding achievements in international fields. In 2022 he was also honored by the Oregon Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, which hailed him as “an internationally recognized master artisan of the practice of landscape architecture.”
Uchiyama has taught landscape design courses and lectured on Japanese gardening at colleges and public gardens throughout the United States and Japan. His writings have been featured in Garden Design, Fine Gardening, Inspired House, Luxe Magazine, as well as professional journals in Japan.
He is a registered landscape architect with a BLA and MLA from the University of Illinois. His representative projects include renovations of the Osaka Garden; the site of the 1893 Great Columbian Exposition at Jackson Park in Chicago (from 2000 until present); and the Shofu-en of the Denver Botanic Gardens (2001 – 2012). Most recently, he completed the Shoun-Kei Japanese garden at Sarah Duke Gardens at Duke University (2015). At Portland Japanese Garden, Uchiyama worked closely with Kengo Kuma to create and integrate new garden spaces into the Cultural Crossing expansion. The two have continued to work together, collaborating on the new Rolex Headquarters in Dallas, Texas and other projects in the US.
Diane Durston, Curator Emerita
Diane Durston is a writer, lecturer, cultural consultant, and educator, who lived for 18 years in Japan.
From 2007 to 2018, Durston was the Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art & Education at Portland Japanese Garden, where she has been instrumental in expanding the Garden’s reputation as a center of cultural learning, laying the groundwork for the Garden’s new International Institute for Garden Arts and Culture. Upon her retirement in 2018, Durston assumed the role of Curator Emerita.
She is the author of three books and numerous essays and articles on the culture and traditional way of life in Kyoto. Her book Old Kyoto is now in a second edition and 15th printing. The New York Times has referred to it as a “Japan travel classic.” Her other books include Kyoto: Seven Paths to the Heart of the City, an introduction to historic preservation districts in Kyoto. She has also contributed essays to the Encyclopedia of Japan, Japan, The Cycle of Life, and the Japan Crafts Sourcebook. Her most recent book, Wabi Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life was published in 2006.
As a cultural consultant, she has developed on-site cultural programs in Japan introducing Japanese art, culture, religion, history, and gardens for such organizations as the University of Pennsylvania, the Whitney Museum, the Yale Galleries, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since returning to the US in 1996, Durston has served as Special Programs Producer for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where she produced month-long performing arts festivals in conjunction with the openings of two special exhibitions “Edo: Art in Japan 1615–1868″ in 1998 and of “Golden Age of Archeology in China” in 1999. From 2002–2006, Durston was Director of Special Projects and later Curator of Education at the Portland Art Museum.
In 2022 it was announced that the Government of Japan has awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays to Durston. This award was established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji and is among the highest honors conferred to civilians. The Consular Office of Japan in Portland shared that Durston was chosen to be among the recipients of the Japanese government’s 2022 Autumn Commendations “in recognition of her contributions to the introduction of Japanese culture in the United States, and to the promotion of mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.”
Mayra Aparicio, Director of Human Resources
Jennifer Baumann, Chief Development Officer
Paula Esguerra, Special Advisor, Japan Institute’s International Exchange Forum
Stephan Ferreira, Director of Guest Experience
Diane Freeman, Chief Financial Officer
Misako Ito, Executive Director, Japan Office
Megumi Kato, Marketing Director
Ashley McQuade, Director of Buying and Merchandising
Kathy Parmenter, Executive Assistant
Jason Sipe, Director of Operations