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Department ofArt and Art History

San Francisco Chinatown (2020)

San Francisco Chinatown (2020)
Project Statement

In a yearlong project from 2019-2020, I worked with the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco (CCC) and the Chinatown Arts and Culture Coalition to lead a community-engaged art process that would help lay the groundwork for an application for cultural district designation.

The project started out by asking the public, “How do arts and culture impact your sense of belonging in San Francisco Chinatown?” I developed a questionnaire with input from the coalition. CCC translated the materials into Chinese and worked with the coalition to engage constituents.

As the pandemic began, we pivoted. I developed a public artwork, “Hopes for Chinatown” for 100 Days Action’s Art for Essential Workers project to wheatpaste artworks on storefronts that were boarded up during the pandemic.

Recognizing that the neighborhood residents were primarily low-income immigrant seniors, I decided to create a comic book as a more accessible and visual way to convey the stories. The comic book has three types of content: illustrated maps of places of belonging, multivocal street scenes that celebrate cultural assets and creative uses of public space, and narratives of intergenerational relationships. CCC staff provided Chinese translations for the 56-page comic book. They also freely distributed hundreds of copies of the comic book to local residents via community organizations and health clinics.

I also created a storefront installation at 41 Ross where the public could learn more about the comic book, pick up free copies, and find a map to take a self-guided walking tour of places of belonging (also available as a downloadable PDF).

In response to the stories, the project shifted from an inquiry into arts and culture to a creative place-knowing document on cultural belonging. The framing shifted to be inclusive of Manilatown. The stories helped me appreciate Chinatown as a living memory palace, where street views, tastes, and sounds can trigger deeply emotional, personal, and familial memories. In the context of anti-Asian sentiment and a movement for justice for Black lives, I felt affirmed in my belief that belonging is a lens that can sharpen focus on civic policy and social disparity as well as cultural assets to be valued and protected.

*A project of the Chinatown Arts and Culture Coalition and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.