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:

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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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Multiple Exposure: Desire, Accumulation, and Transformation

Multiple Exposure is a group exhibition featuring works by Yaloo (Ji Yeon Lim), Kira Nam Greene and Soi Park, the three AHL Visual Art Award winners of 2016. 

"From digital video to painting to photography, the three artists employ vastly different media and process of working. However, they all share a common theme that touches upon desire, accumulation, and transformation in exploring various cultural nuances.

"Whether capturing a slice of contemporary life through the lens of media saturated Pop culture or the nuanced balancing act of immigrants trying to reconcile who they are at the intersection of contrasting cultural and sociopolitical economies, the works in Multiple Exposure present intriguing accumulation of multifaceted interpretations and perspectives" 

- Eun Young Choi, Curator & Director of Programs, the AHL Foundation 
(L-R) Artist Kira Nam Greene and curator Eun Young Choi

Artist Soi Park  and her series Young Jeong Sajin (The Funeral Portrait) 
Film still from artist Yaloo (Ji Yeon Lim)

By Kira Nam Greene 
Mello Jello, by Kira Nam Greene, 2016
 Watercolor, gauche and colored pencil on paper mounted on panel 

By Kira Nam Greene 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Does Chinese Civilization Come From Egypt?

In response to the article "Does Chinese Civilization Come From Ancient Egypt", AAAC ED Bob Lee says: 
  This story of Egypt as the prehistoric source of China does participate in political motives as well, to use archaeology to undermine the ageless enduring notion of China and thus its formidable political prowess. Perception in politics is everything.  
  In a TV program on PBS The Origins of Civilization, historian Michael Wood wrote about the ‘Barbarian West’ - a perspective on the Middle Ages which could be taken as having a similar intent. Many moons ago in Hong Kong there was an organization whose long term goal was to develop evidence to prove Chinese culture came from Southeast Asia. Despite all of its minorities, the coherence of a singular set of cultural notions is remarkably impressive. To attribute this and place this development at anyone other than at China's door holds little credibility.
  DNA indicates Chinese people originated in Africa which I can accept. I don't know if this also can specify approximately how long ago.  The controversy about Egypt as the source of China however is likely to remain a controversy for a while. In terms of the cultural aspects of this question, what we know of its culture at this stage of knowledge production has distinct characteristics quite apart from those that constitute the profile of Egypt. I don't consider this issue implying these two cultures are in some fundamental way identical. Perhaps related, but how related has to be developed. 

 That traditional China has a unique culture and its presence midst the global family of cultures carries a special importance for us all. I don't believe the question of Egypt significantly impacts this understanding. How China's culture embraced the world has a unique stance, direction, tone, evolution and character.  This cultural knowledge may be enlarged but significantly altered, that's hard to see as possible, given the limits we all live with. 
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Friday, September 30, 2016
Special Meeting in Chinatown

A special meeting of Chinatown Working Group (CWG) was called by the Community Board 3, bringing together members of the Department of City Planning (DCP). It is rare to have the DCP come to talk. The community is very upset after working for 8 years to produce 197a plan, then having the city refuse to look at it. Now there is an agreement that CWG will change the plan to 197c plan, so they’re only looking at certain portions of the plan (3 portions). They now want to hear from the community about recommendations so that DCP can begin to process it. 

Edith Hsu-Chen, DCP 
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer

An eloquent speaker from Community Board 3 

Margaret Chin 
A noisy demonstration out on the street began early by some of the more left leaning community groups that have been participating in the last several years of creating the plan. After some clarification of what the purpose of this meeting was, a number of the Community Board 3 members spoke of how much they support the CWG plan and how they refuse to be forced by DeBlasio’s DCP department. Some say it’s been 6 years of work. Whether it be 6 years or 8 years, it is scandalous that the city would sit by and let Chinatown work all those years and now refuse to examine the whole plan. Their explanation is that it will take a number of years just to really process the sections of the plan dealing with the local Chinatown zones. And it would simply take too many years to cover the other sections of the plan that deal with outlying areas. 

Unfortunately this includes the waterfront, where major construction is underway. DCP’s explanation for why there are no regulations for low income housing requirements along the waterfront is quite obscure, but apparently DCP staff are locked into the regulations of how the city requires R10 to be up zoned to MIG (don’t ask me what that means or if it’s correct) status. However, that’s the first explanation from the horse’s mouth I ever got in 8 years. Some groups will hate me for it, however, it’s clear that DCP staff are working within their own limitations. The outcry from some of the members of the Community Board 3 on stage is that this opportunity to have this rare meeting and not discuss all sections, particularly the waterfront, which itself could totally transform Chinatown, is a bureaucratic way to fail in addressing the need to save Chinatown and zone it adequately. 

By 8’ o clock, when the meeting ended, with some sense of having been productive, the City, the Community Board 3, and those of us who have stuck through  so many years of giving time and effort to Chinatown’s 197 plan, went home outside PS130. As I left, many of the key people were still standing at the front of the school, discussing all the issues. 

Amidst all the protest and confusion, I was able to insert into the discussion how the arts can bring greater prosperity to our community. 

I thank Margaret Chin for staying there for the complete meeting, even into the night, as she has done since I’ve known her for so many years. 

- Bob Lee, Executive Director of AAAC
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