Sunday, January 15, 2017
ZONED OUT!


At the Abrons Arts Center on Dec 12 2016, the authors of the book "Zoned Out!" and community organizers gathered to discuss the racial segregation, gentrification and displacement in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

Speakers:
Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, the Graduate Center, and City University of New York, and Director of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development. He is author of New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate, which won the 2009 Davidoff Book Award.

Samuel Stein is a PhD student in Geography at the CUNY Graduate Center and holds a master’s degree in Urban Planning from Hunter College. In addition to teaching and studying urban geography, he worked as a researcher, organizer, and planner on numerous New York City union campaigns, tenant mobilizations, and public policy initiatives. 

Louise Velez is a native Puerto Rican and a long-time Lower East Side resident. In the 1970s she began organizing with fellow residents against unsafe housing conditions, evictions and displacement in the neighborhood. Velez is a member of Mujeres y Hombres Luchadores, and a Board Member of National Mobilization Against SweatShops (NMASS), where she is currently organizing public housing residents to demand repairs and to stop the sale of public land and assets.

Jei Fong is a staff member of Chinese Staff & Workers' Association with over 10 years of experience organizing workers in the workplace and community.

Sylvia Morse received her Master of Urban Planning degree from CUNY Hunter College, where she focused on housing and participatory planning. She is a lifelong New Yorker who has worked with community-based and nonprofit organizations dedicated to affordable housing, community-based planning, and racial and economic justice. 





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Saturday, January 14, 2017
In the Spirit of #CreateNYC- The LES Discusses NYC's Cultural Plan

Chino Garcia speaks at the TNC Neighborhood Gathering 

On December 27th,  in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, community cultural center Theater for the New City hosted a discussion in the vein of City Council's plan for creating NYC's first ever cultural plan. A panel of diverse artists were asked to describe their role in creating the arts community and culture of the LES. Community leaders, including "representatives of neighborhood churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, settlement houses, NYCHA and other residences, and civic groups" were invited to discuss the needs of the neighborhood. 
Artists at the TNC Neighborhood Gathering 




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Monday, December 19, 2016
AAAC: Why are there so many Chinese restaurants in the U.S.?


  This article offers one answer, though clearly this is only one piece of the story. 

  The reliance on small family operations shapes NY Chinatown into a hub developed over generations for all the farms and supply chains that bring in fresher food at less cost into restaurants throughout out the East Coast. This economy of Chinatown is apparently its own system apart from the global economy and the big box business. Articles have come out about this. 

  An unspoken aspect of this story is the marketing, or should we say the socio-political dynamics. How do you survive in a hostile climate after you form Chinatowns for safety? The genius of our great-great-grandfather's generation to be welcoming, cordial, innocuous, offering better food at attractive prices and protecting themselves and their businesses with their own security network - gangs- made alliances across ethnic lines but were sometimes not well-controlled. All this was networked with our love of gambling, particularly for the bachelor generation - apart from family, alone, risking everything on their luck. Food has a context.

  I know in Newark NJ Chinatown when gambling was still legal, my father had a friend who earned his living solely by driving people who flew into and from Newark airport to gamble in Newark Chinatown. Mayor Addonezio shut this down, and the FBI raids kept fear and anxiety not far from home. There were those who profited from all of this. They built many buildings, family associations, and social structures that united authorities, settled local disputes and established political loyalties, including friends in Washington DC. 

  And don't forget, when that prestigious Senator proclaimed in Congress in 1882 that this nation would remain Christian or become Sinicized, the Law of Chinese Exclusion turned us all into the unknown, taboo, worse than heathen, opium smokers, the epitome of unAmerican, etc, etc. Yet we were for that very reason attractive, a secret place to go for a bit of excitement that was still a bit ordinary. For decades, from top hats to T-shirts, Chinatown restaurants remained the foil for the man on the street to get away, be in another space, do something just a bit unusual yet as ordinary and jaded as a Humphrey Bogart movie. 


  In Newark there were two restaurants that sat more than a hundred tables until smoke bombs were tossed in during the 1930s. Though important, neither the food nor the veil behind a strange language were the reasons for Chinatown's success. For Americans, Chinatown is in the mind, the minds of those who were our patrons. Our image, the key message of our presence, may be definitive, more than the icing/Sini-cizing on the cake.  

  If Jazz has become largely white, how long can authentic Chinese food and its Chinatowns, those that still exist, last? Fifty years? Maybe less if the gentrification started by Bloomberg has its way. Maybe more, if we learn to play our cards...and music as well as our great great grand fathers did. 

Bob
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Forgiveness Ceremony Followed After DAPL Construction Halted Last Week

Last week, the Dakota Access Pipeline protestors celebrated the halt of construction on the project. Asian American Arts Centre received news of this important decision through a Huffington Post article, which described the events of the Forgiveness Ceremony, held a day after construction was halted, at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. 

Bob Lee, Executive Director of AAAC, comments on the Forgiveness Ceremony: "This moment is the most historically significant and most powerful moment in the history of this country that I have witnessed in my lifetime. It's more significant than the end of WWII, more significant than Kennedy getting shot, or the World Trade Center falling down. World War II just establishes us as powerful. This has the power to transform the very beginnings and the very nature of what this country is about, because it's a people-to-people act. It was done with tremendous sincerity. It was done with more significance than any politician can generate. This has the capacity or potential to transform the very nature of this country."

Here are some of our favorite photos from the article:

Photo Credit: Josh Morgan for the Huffington Post 
"Leonard Crow Dog, a Lakota elder and highly-regarded activist, left, places his hand over Wesley Clark Jr.'s head during a forgiveness ceremony for veterans at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation [last] Monday." -Jenna Amatulli, Huffington Post 

Photo Credit: Josh Morgan for the Huffington Post 
"Wesley Clark Jr., middle, and other veterans kneel in front of Leonard Crow Dog during the forgiveness ceremony." -Jenna Amatulli, Huffington Post 

Click here to read more about Huffington Post's coverage of the DAPL Forgiveness Ceremony: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/forgiveness-ceremony-unites-veterans-and-natives-at-standing-rock-casino_us_5845cdbbe4b055b31398b199?
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Sunday, December 4, 2016
A Response to “Cultural and Racial Equity in Practice:  Current Policy and Research and the Future of NYC”  held at Museo del Barrio  November 16th 2016  New York Community Trust

The following comments are my own personal observations. Three points are made at the end. They are not meant to address all aspects of the cultural plan.


Towards the conclusion of this event I realized a large part of the discussion dealt with policies and practices, elaborating the administrative system to be able to make the arts accessible to all parts of the city. What was being overlooked became clear when questions were taken from the audience. One speaker replied, when asked about a community organization that is 34 years old, that the practice at her foundation was to see such groups as having a natural life cycle. No sustainability program therefore would be undertaken to support such groups.

The idea that a natural life cycle could be applied to community cultural organizations was striking, when the development of a comprehensive cultural plan for NYC is based on several decades of cultural inequity. This can hardly be termed a natural process. Fixing the system’s approach has failed to zoom in and see how the arts are actually transmitted under conditions of racial and cultural neglect. A systems approach takes no responsibility for individual POC organizations and see them only in terms of their ‘life cycle’. Their skills and achievements configured under difficult and daunting conditions, their devotion to their arts and their communities are then easily diminished, and disregarded. It becomes conceivable that a system of transfer to an established larger organization can learn to serve their audience, present their arts, and even gain a community’s trust.

When a natural development took place in the 1980s, artists of color created a major cultural phenomena called Multiculturalism that persisted for twenty years. Throughout the country when community groups sought increased support to accommodate audiences, the funding community chose instead to create a major funding program called 'New Audiences' where funds to present these new artists were given to established institutions. As artists attracted larger audiences they were moved from community venues that nourished them to mainstream institutions pushing their notion of ‘multiculturalism’.

Why were community venues not supported? Because we were not trusted. We were organizations of color. We weren't white. Sharing power with us was unthinkable. Here is an example of intentional racial and cultural neglect that community members may not have known, nor realized its impact on their POC community.  Despite this, artists like Martin Wong, Zhang Hongtu, Mel Chin, Danny NT Yung, Xu Bing, Lily Yeh, Indira Freitas Johnson, Zarina Hashmi, Tseng Kwong Chi, Gu Wenda, Natvar Bhavsar, even Ai Wei Wei, and more recently Wafaa Bilal and Simone Leigh, who were exhibited at AAAC early in their careers, came to be recognized as important to the visual life of this society and the international community. This is one of the many ways that indicate the significant value of community cultural organizations.

Another aspect of arts organizations was raised by comparing them to public libraries, how libraries bring many library users to public hearings to substantiate their request for funds while arts groups bring few if any. This difference offers no insight into the issue of arts organizations. Public hearings are themselves a questionable way of relating to communities for whom racial and cultural neglect has become a norm. Local audiences did not come pounding on the door of AAAC to initiate a program to support unknown artists.

A small group of devoted arts people in the 1980s were responsible for envisioning arts programming. They did that when nobody cared. I could have asked artists we exhibited to come to city hearings but I doubt any would have come. Because officials weren't listening then, and I'm afraid the plan is to not listen now.

If teaching mainstream institutions how to replace community arts organizations becomes the outcome of this public process, then the problem of inequity will continue. You may teach people to attend public hearings but you may only be making another attempt at assimilation. POC don’t want to be assimilated. We want to retain our difference. We want to be equal.  

Neo-liberalism nationally has formed the policies towards POC. In New York State this led to a funding department for community arts called ‘Ghetto Arts’. It then proceeded to fund NYC’s communities peanuts for four decades. Just as the center has its periphery and the periphery has its fringe, it's on the fringe where POC have lived.  The harmful effects of this decades old policy should be, as far as possible, reversed.

A systems approach can never serve the purpose of what the arts are about. Equity for POC is not just about equal access to the arts, nor just a resource distribution systems problem. Art is about real human contact. People who want to share and enjoy and touch what we touch. It's about the transmission of what moves us, what animates us, about what we come to feel because the artist/teacher feels with us. Ultimately it's about what we believe and trust. That's what artists/performers do, what good teachers do, what community arts groups do. That is where a bond of trust is sparked that fosters participation and identity. The best a systems approach can do is to get out of the way and let those motivated to create, present, transmit, care for and preserve the arts and the culture it grows - the arts in situ - that embody our living culture. Such arts motivate people, and are already in place with years of demonstrated commitment to their community and their arts. 
Do we have the will to take responsibility for decades of neglect, of policies that have alienated both those on the right and those in diverse communities? Now, after the elections of November 8, a different stance needs to be realized. Diversity needs to be affirmed. Can this call for equity realize the next step in doing what’s right?

Reverse 40 years of neglect. Send a message to Trump that NYC affirms the value of diversity. That we value and affirm our neighborhoods and the diverse cultures of all ethnic peoples. That the goal of cultural equity, strengthening neighborhoods, communities, ethnic groups, is nothing less than the goal of making NYC great. And that this commitment comes first before real estate, land use and temptation to gentrify communities.

On this point further discussion may be necessary, however, the colonization of settled neighborhoods, must be stopped. This is essential, else equity is meaningless.

The challenge Trump presents us is to embrace diversity. Embrace our differences, rather than show how liberal or tolerant we like to see ourselves, to truly believe in the value and the gift of many cultures jostling and bumping into each other endowing us with the kind of energy and rhythms we have come to know as NY. White ethnics have their neighborhoods as well. They can be embraced too, for what they contribute to the mix. Their pride and their culture should never be neglected as POC’s were, and never be confused with the biases and hostilities they have been taught to identify as theirs. Demagoguery can be challenged once we are clear it's in our neighborhoods, in real people, not in systems, not in profits, not in the monetary system, that is where the strength and beauty of our city lie.

Beyond legal rights and token tolerance POC and all ethnic groups want to feel recognized, welcomed and accepted by the larger city. Towards this goal, embracing our diversity could be made tangible by some form of legitimization, the issuing of a certificate for display, an entitlement that enables a clearer path to funding and support. Such a piece of parchment even if issued will mean nothing unless the quest for cultural equity is the first step in an ongoing move to transform Neo-liberalism.

People in the arts who endure in small localized communities that may have been uprooted, who acquire a faith that lasts and carries them through, and whose arts may never come to be recognized for the strength and meaning it has for their community and for our nation – these are examples of exceptional people. Contrary to celebrity culture, these people and what they do, in my mind, should become known as an exceptional investment. I suggest a different, not necessarily an expanded role for government. A government motivated to strengthening a culture, of fulfilling the inner well-being of a people, not just its economic material enhancement, a higher notion if you will, of the purpose of government.

Contemporary society can express its desire and appreciation of other traditional ethnic cultures and their wisdoms, as the birthright of every grand father and grandmother to be seen and regarded given their wise, loving presence. Neo-liberalism can recognize its excesses, its inequity, its reliance on youth culture, its drive for power and money, its use of science to replace what is felt, its preference for legalities rather than its humanity, and material secularisms that leave little space for a valid role for the spirituality of every faith.

In conclusion I suggest:

The question of Equity initiated the need for a cultural plan and must be at the center of the eight questions posed to guide procedures of all public meetings so New Yorkers can grasp the implications for their communities.

A cultural plan that affirms NYC’s commitment to the value of our neighborhoods and the diverse cultures of all ethnic peoples. Our city is as strong as its communities.

A cultural plan that issues a certificate or entitlement to community groups, establishing a clear and direct path to funding and support.

Robert Lee

Asian American Arts Centre

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Friday, November 25, 2016
NYC's Cultural Research in Practice - #CreateNYC

As cultural advocates and arts leaders discuss what a comprehensive cultural plan for NYC would look like, Mark Stern of the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) at the University of Pennsylvania gave a lay of the land at the convening Cultural and Racial Equity in Practice: Current Policy and Research and the Future of New York City. 

Full Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99rncCM1Vxc


















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Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Dialogue on the NYC Cultural Plan

The Innovative Cultural Advocacy/Cultural Equity Coalition presented an open dialogue on the NYC Cultural plan on last Friday, October 28th. 

"NYC's cultural policies should empower arts and cultural organizations working in communities
of color, not only because a diverse arts sector is an essential element for any global city, but 
also because many culturally-specific organizations are already working, directly or indirectly, to
address inequality in the distribution of public services, enforcement of civil rights, and access to 
professional and educational opportunities."
Panelists included: 
The Cultural Equity Coalition
Nisha Baliga- Participatory Planning Director, Hester Street Collaborative
Caron Atlas- Consultant, Hester Street Collaborative AND Co-director of Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts New York
Edwin Torres- Deputy Commissioner NYC Department of Cultural Affairs 
Moderated by Nathalie Tejada, Director of Development, Public and Government Relations, Astor Services for Children & Families, and ICA Alum-Cycle II. 

ICF fellows of the CCCADI (Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute) made their reports to DCA and the two groups they hired to manage the process, Hester Street Collaborative and Caron Atlas.

DCA and co agreed to come to this to hear from CEG and all that Marta has been doing. Linda Walton spoke for CEG, giving a report:

I.  Cultural Equity Group History and Background
·       Emerging from the Civil Rights Movement and founded in 2007, the Cultural Equity Group (CEG) is a coalition of cultural arts organizations and artists in New York City working for the equitable distribution of funds and resources to assure that under-resourced and under-served emerging and mid-sized organizations grounded in the culture and arts of their communities are fairly funded.

·       The Cultural Equity Group speaks to the importance of artists and arts organizations of color whose contributions often define the vibrancy and vitality of neighborhoods throughout New York.  Many are landmark cultural institutions operating within most Council district.

·       Concern of CEG: Presently 33 organizations designated the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG) receive approximately 3/4 of the New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs budget while approximately ¼ is divided among over 1000 organizations.  The vast majority of organizations funded in this category reflect historically marginalized racial, ethnic and other cultural groups that do not represent the so-called “mainstream.”
II. CEG Informing the Cultural Plan
At a meeting organized last year by the CEG at The Riverside Theater, The CEG proposed the following
·       Equity is not a remedial endeavor for the disadvantaged but sees our communities from their advantages, their positives, enabling their unique qualities to enrich us all.
·       Requested a CEG appointment to the NYC Citizen’s Advisory Committee.
·       A fully transparent Cultural Planning effort that explores creative new funding mechanisms such as the creation of a Cultural Re-investment Fund that recognizes the important role played by community arts organizations and artists in creating vital communities and offers a viable vehicle to address concerns for cultural equity and access
·       The Plan should address structural changes as a priority
·       The Plan should bring about equity and a transparent funding distribution process
·       The Plan should consider a decentralized structure that empowers arts service organizations/intermediaries that are reflective of the communities served to manage the process
·       Establish relationships with other city agencies to explore the integration of the arts in their service deliverables.   Small Business Services, Economic Development, City Plan (land use/zoning), Housing (affordable housing), Work Force Development, Health, etc.

III. explore/Research viable strategies

The Cultural Equity Re-Investment Fund
·       The CEG proposes the creation of a Reinvestment Fund that reinvests the city’s arts-generated tourism income in the communities of color served by local artists, arts organizations and smaller cultural institutions and by doing so addresses concerns for equity and access.  The Reinvestment Fund will:
·       Generate new funding from new source
·       Create a platform for equity within the diversity parameters NYC is seeking to develop via the Cultural Plan;
·       Represent the true diversity across the entire City, and infuse the plan with support for the realities organizations face city-wide thus enriching NY districts, local organizations and arts agencies as specific regional demographics evolve.
·       Spur economic, cultural and community revitalization efforts;
·       Create jobs, provide a living wage and benefits to cultural workers;
·       Build Cultural Networks led by organizations of color and promote local arts activity as key to the City’s economic health among NYC political leadership.

The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA)
·       CETA was a federal program that created jobs across sectors including the arts (artists/arts organizations) administered through various city and arts organizations.
·       The development of the Cultural Plan should include a review and analysis of this project framing the impact, number of artists employed, etc.


·       CEG members Dianne Fraher, Bob Lee, Bill Aguado and Pat Cruz were all products of this program which had an important impact on employment for artists and provided employees for arts organizations.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA)
Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired hundreds of artists who collectively created more than 100,000 paintings and murals and over 18,000 sculptures. The Federal Art Project (1935–43) was a New Deal program to fund the visual arts in the United States. It was created not as a cultural activity but as a relief measure to employ artists and artisans to create murals, easel paintings, sculpture, graphic art, posters, photography, theatre scenic design, and arts and crafts. The WPA Federal Art Project established more than 100 community art centers throughout the country, researched and documented American design, commissioned a significant body of public art without restriction to content or subject matter, and sustained some 10,000 artists and craft workers

IV. Additional Recommendations for the Plan

1.   Funding
  • Sustainable funding as a designated line item in the City Budget independent of the funds provided to the Cultural Institutions Group to landmark our cultures and the cultural resources of communities of color. Funding would support:
§  Operations/Administration
§  Projects/Programs
§  Capacity Building

§     Monies earmarked to conduct research and to collect data that both [on the deficit side] demonstrate a system of de facto cultural apartheid; funding imbalances in the City and [on the surplus end] the enormous economic benefits; cultural pride and social mobility it brings to communities of color.

2.   Resources
§      Access to information, application and funding processes for capital dollars for equipment, capital improvements, and real estate acquisitions.

§       Increased or provision of services and support for individual artists that improve the quality of life so they may better serve our communities such as health insurance, employment, subsidized studio space, and affordable housing.

3.   Technical Assistance
§       Assistance providing infrastructure development in the form of capacity building, organizational preparedness, professional development, and increased staff provided by intermediaries such as AHA, HAA, NoMAA, other service organizations with a focus on communities of color is needed to successfully endow a foundation of stability, growth, and sustainability to organizations in need.
            To make the distribution of assets more independent and equitable, the recalibration of administrative processes within existing funding agencies is imperative. CEG asks that monies allocated to the group be administered through alternate agencies (i.e. Small Business Service or EDC). Alternatively, the CEG proposes the creation of an independent CEG Administrative office in each Borough.
     In addition, the privatization of public projects and public culture raises concern about the use of private dollars for major real estate developments that impose and/or exclude certain cultural sensibilities. The CEG encourages “socially conscious development” and seeks to ensure that the City makes a concerted effort to landmark cultural/ethnic-specific businesses within the city’s development plans.
      CEG must have a place at the table to make sure that we have input in development projects that impact our livelihood. CEG will review and use as a reference, the 197A plans of Community Boards and Community Benefits Agreements to assess their impact on communities-of-color and how communities-at-large can protect, preserve indigenous groups or its historic residents.
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Friday, October 28, 2016
Chinatown Is Not For Sale- AAAC Executive Director Responds

October 22, Artists Space, Chinatown Art Brigade, and Decolonize This Place brought together local residents, activists, gallery owners, and artists for a candid dialogue on the growing impact of art galleries in Chinatown. 

Asian American Arts Centre Executive Director Robert Lee was asked to be a respondent to the conversation. Post-event, he continues his response here: 

I want to thank the Chinatown Art Brigade for asking me to be a respondent to the panelists at the Chinatown Is Not for Sale event on Saturday, October 22nd, held at Artists Space on 55 Walker Street. My comments now might shed more light on this situation if I speak not as the respondent but more directly from the perspective of someone who has been working on contemporary Asian American Art for some time, and address the question Tomie raised-- the borders of Chinatown. I'm referring less to the physical borders than the cultural borders. In this way it may become more clear why the arts are central to Chinatown's growth as an important partner in the larger cultural life of New York City. 

Asian Americans, the next generation who are inheriting the dynamic Chinatown community, are clearly on the border, crossing and connecting and dissolving the border between Asia and America. Lower Manhattan's Chinatown is unique in that it bears all the markings both racially and politically of its long history in New York City, and even as a microcosm of China's immense past. New Yorkers and visitors who want to experience Chinatown may enjoy touching just the surface of this community, for it offers a brief glimpse into deep time, into a fragment of ancient time. Physically these few square blocks are actually a window into a vastly important encounter, perhaps far more important to the whole city than to the population who live within its limits. 

Recently I went to a five-day conference on Traditional Chinese Medicine. I was surprised for nearly twenty minutes by the opening address of the keynote speaker, who is the founder of this medical profession. I thought it was a lecture on the arst. How to look deeply and feel the art, whether it was a painting or a popular song, listening emotively, savoring every note. Taking time to practice, repeating this lesson several times, to be sure everyone saw every color, every stroke. This was a lesson for practitioners of the art of healing on how to be open, how to sense and feel their patients. They did not treat symptoms, for these were only messages from the body, living energies flowing through not the physical body, but the energetic body. This energy can be sensed; the vibrations can be felt in exactly the way art communicates.  

It is here on this border, on this frontier, where the patterns of quantum physics apply (Peter Russell, a physicist, also delivered a keynote), where the latest, most contemporary ideas meet ideas from tradition, Asian tradition. And one of the most vital ways to communicate such changes in the world we live in is the arts. This is precisely where Chinatown sits, where the break between modernity and tradition merge, their energies flowing into each other. To recognize the vital character hidden in Asian traditions is to remove the blockages, the stereotypes that hinder the flow of life, and the energies it embodies. 

Lion Dances during the Lunar New Year season may seem quaint, a tradition that is no longer practiced in most of China. If you saw it last time you may have noticed how those who watch it are rapt, many as if in a trance. Many can't take their eyes off what seems a merely auspicious ritual. The rhythms and the roots of Lion Dance, however, go back 500 years to the Nuo Masked Dances, which are still practiced in certain mountain cultures in China. And the Nuo masks go back 4000 years, perhaps to Neolithic times. Within the small borders of Chinatown are rhythms that touch on the roots of China. 
In this community where so many work and live together, some 4th, 5th, and 6th generation, with other more recent arrivals, the customs, manners, instincts and accents vary into a wide array. Yet they all retain a compatibility with each other. It is this immersive geographic cluster that is so New York, that is accessible to a broad public. We all know when we are in Chinatown. You can feel it. The multitude of street signs, the closeness of things on top of each other, the sounds of people talking, working, laughing, this is what attracts many to come, walk on its streets, stop, visit, stay a bit, feel the vibes. All that we sense is part of the human architecture, part of the energetic body of Chinatown, and its borders permeate beyond its physical limits. The essence of Chinatown is not physical. And to encounter it in food, Buddhism, martial arts, churches, streets, language, neighborhoods, music, dance, brushwork and new art is to touch a vital part of what it means to be alive, to be a New Yorker. 

We have all experienced it. It's time to become conscious of it.  

It's through the arts that Chinatown can become conscious of its role in the city, be the partner to keep the city and its culture not driven, not rushed, not crazed, but thriving, energized. It's not just the income, the jobs, the housing, the parking we want. Clearly these are part of it. But the vital energy of living culture is what we want. When we come to recognize this, we can take steps to nurture this and protect it.  

For example, what has been offered at this event is a map of what could be interpreted as a foreign invasion, a Trojan horse for gentrification. Yet two of these galleries, Whitebox and 47 Canal, given we understand better their cultural mission, their purpose and compatibility with the cultural future of an energized Chinatown, and given their stated interest in working with this community, are both assets in moving our community forward. Whether other galleries have a direct interest in Asian American art or China's art, or a cultural phenomenon in Asia, or a cultural question even here in the states in which we as Americans are still deeply implicated, the energy they bring can be compatible with our goals. The energetic body of Chinatown can help envision/formulate a proposal to the local community board for an advisory role in screening galleries seeking to relocate here. With the city's blessing in acknowledging the value of a vital energized Chinatown, galleries can make a presentation of their cultural mission, what kind of cultural energies are important to them, what relationship do they seek or have with Chinatown's cultural future. These and other questions, like - are there already too many galleries on this street? Then our community can weigh in on how Chinatown develops. Such a process in some sense might even be implementable retroactively. (With the city's blessing, other steps can be taken on the housing front, and I'm guessing, even on the small business front.) 

The physical borders of Lower Manhattan's Chinatown are quite limited. However, what the city, the state, the East coast, and even the country risks losing to gentrification is profound. Chinatown is in the mind. It is what it means in no small measure to be a New Yorker, to be living in contemporary times. Not to be able to touch and feel its essence would be a deprivation, a loss to what makes New York an attraction. With the growth of digital culture, more internationally are becoming aware of the vitality in our neighborhoods.  

Become conscious of the flow of cultural energy, its role in the life of Chinatown. Then we can take actions that will energize everyone.  

Robert Lee 
Asian American Arts Centre  







Tomie Arai of Chinatown Art Brigade
Artist Liz Moy
Juan Puntes, founder of White Box 

Margaret Lee of 47 Canal 





Betty Yu of Chinatown Art Brigade 
Peter Kwong


















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Friday, October 21, 2016
Chinatown Art Brigade Leads Environmental Tour of Chinatown

October 9th, CHINATOWN WALKS. Hosted by CALL, City As Living Laboratory.
Chinatown Art Brigade (artists) and Samuel Stein (urban geographer) will lead a "Placekeeping" Walk in Chinatown to help shift public perception of local environmental issues that go beyond pollution, dirty streets and garbage. The walk will highlight the environmental effects of gentrification and massive construction on the Chinatown quality of life. The walk will be led by Chinatown Art Brigade's co-founders, 3 native New Yorkers with deep roots in Chinatown along with Samuel Stein, an expert in housing and public policy.
Jean Shin (artist) and Robin Nagle's(anthropologist) WALK will highlight the often invisible systems and economies that are part of the ecology of Chinatown. Shin and Nagle will focus on recycling work done by canners, patterns of consumption, and hidden infrastructures of waste streams and labor.
(L-R) Mansee Kong, Samuel Stein, Tomie Arai









 Artist Jean Shin introduces the crowd to a man who runs a bottle-collecting stop in Chinatown around St. James Place. There is an estimated 5,000 women in Chinatown who dig through trashcans to collect bottles, which they sell for a five cents each to a "middle-man" (above), who in turn sells it to other states.


A participant speaks about the New York Department of Sanitation. 
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