Tuesday, August 6, 2019

In 2017 DOT (Department of Transportation) issued an RFP (Request for Proposal) which stated: 

The New York City Department of Transportation, in collaboration with the Chinatown Partnership and Van Alen Institute, is initiating Gateways to Chinatown, a design initiative seeking innovative proposals to plan, design and construct a symbolic and functional landmark at the nexus of Manhattan’s Chinatown and the southern entrance to Little Italy’s historic Mulberry and Mott streets. The overarching goal of the project is to provide a new marker for Chinatown, Little Italy, and the surrounding neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan to engender pride of place, foster connectivity and cultural and social identity, and stimulate economic development. This iconic new structure and public space will be located on a triangular traffic island at a key pedestrian node bounded by Canal Street, Baxter Street and Walker Street. ( June 19, 2017 “Proposal Due Date”)

The effort builds on numerous previous plans, such as the community-consensus building meetings supporting the 1974 “Chinatown Street Revitalization Study” organized by the NYC Department of
 City Planning, “America’s Chinatown: A Community Plan” completed in 2004 by Asian 
Americans for Equality, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association’s 2007 proposal for a gateway at Canal Street, and a 2012-13 collaboration with students of the Urban Design Studio at the New York City College of Technology.

July 19, 2019 AAAC sent the following open letter to DOT after a CB#1 hearing to discuss the RFP results. 

Dear Anthony Notaro (Department of Transportation),

At the Chinatown Gateway meeting I raised the issue of the absence of community input in this process. This has been a historical pattern. This is an opportunity to write you and document some of what this community has experienced including my organization Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC).

AAAC, founded in 1974, began its visual art exhibition program in 1983, and its Public Art in Chinatown in 1988 towards a contemporary image for Chinatown and Asian Americans. Mel Chin was in that exhibition – now so prominent, he also submitted a proposal to this Gateway project through AAAC in 2017 but somehow he was disqualified.

Several community people are here for this meeting even though news of it we only a few days ago, For years there has been little if any effort to speak to community. Govt agencies for decades have sustained a pattern of city state and federal actions to push through projects regardless of community.

It was mentioned how twelve years ago planning for this triangle began. The five nfp (not-for-profit) arts organizations were promised how the marketing of our cultural offerings would be promoted by the kiosk built there. Though we met with the designer of the map that is used by so many visitors there he could not change the map nor include any of the other nfp groups. Only MoCA was included. The kiosk mostly promotes Broadway plays and even the young people staffing it are resistant to including local cultural event flyers.

Twelve years ago CPLDC (Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation) sought 5 gate options be considered but could never get past NYC Arts Commission and their bias against anything traditional. Unlike San Francisco and many other American cities where traditional architectural forms are welcome. The gate proposed for Canal St was not allowed and thus restricted to the triangle off Baxter St.

This was not the first time public art has been proposed on this site. I recall being asked for a written piece many years ago on a proposal for work quite similar to what stands by Seward Park on Essex and East Broadway. It is a dark reddish monumental shape. Phallic stone fountains across Asia look very similar. The one proposed for Baxter St was white marble.

If I had to speak to the image of the proposed public art project I would refer back to this history. This time it's a phallic shape in denial, thus it is sliced up into cylinders and punctured with holes.

How to account for such a disconnect between government agencies and the communities they are to serve? The last comment from CB 1 in reviewing the proposal and hearing community comments was, “The procurement process is flawed!”. I felt the comments from the board members were quite fair and insightful in describing the image and experience if the proposed piece were installed. Particularly the final comment seemed to take into account the whole track record of this project.

In the community we can recall the public art of Marshall Lin that stands in Chatham Square. When it was installed it had several plaques with statements about the history, why Marshall Lin was being honored having fought against the British in the Opium War and was the first to say 'No" to drugs. About a year later the Arts Commission removed all to clean but would not return those plaques.

Last year a book was published in Hawaii called Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West - in which it was noted, now widely accepted how Clement Greenberg, the advocate for abstract expressionism in the 60s, claimed only for political motives 'Action Painting' had nothing to do with the Asian tradition of calligraphic brush work. And recently the art critic John Yau commented there were still some critics of his ilk in NYC. The resistance to an Asian cultural presence in New York's cultural circles is something to contend with. Unfortunately the local community is more deeply impacted by this bias than most realize.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote in one of his poem that the city fathers allow the Chinese dragon out to dance through San Francisco Chinatown once a year only to lock it back up into a basement hovel.

When will the time come when cultural diversity, particularly with the cultures of Asia, be regarded as a asset, not just for museum walls.

Bob Lee

AAAC catalogue: Public Art in Chinatown 1988

A letter written to DOT and Gateway applicants in June, 2017 

Dear Potential Gateways to Chinatown Applicants,

Asian American Arts Centre as an visual arts organization that has specialized on Asian American artists, offers insights into the sensibility of many such artists during this opportunity to apply for Canal Street “Gate” RFP. These selected artists' images may serve as an introduction or as a compliment to your knowledge and experience.

Local prominence

Tomie Arai 

Corky Lee

Relay to public art 

Mel Chin

Ming Fay

Mei Ling Hom (1)      (2) 

Soon Im Kim

Mikyung Kim

Toshinori Kuga

Yin Peet

Unlike mainstream

Sung Ho Choi

Ken Fukushima

Eunjung Hwang

Heejung Kim (1)       (2) 

Reinvented Asian sensibility

Chao Chung-Hsiang

Emily Cheng

Columbia Fiero

John Yoyogi Fortes

Colette Fu

Hisako Hibi

Sin-ying Ho

Yun Fei Ji

Mike Kanemitsu

Jung Hyang Kim

Amy Kao

Community motifs

Sung Ho Choi

Fung Ming Chip

Nancy Hom

Teh Ching Hsieh

Ming Fay

Racial perceptions 

Wei In Chen 

Kazuko Miyamoto

Roger Shimomura

Tseng Kwong Chi

Charles Yuen


Teh Ching Hsieh

Mel Chin 

Aesthetic ‘expansion arts’

Soon Im Kim

James Kuo 

Amy Loewan

If you wish I can give a brief intro to any of these artists you chose.

With Kind Regards,

Different Themes
Written by Lovely

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