Since August 26th, Chinatown businesses have become a coloring book page for local artists.
For the past two months, the Pao Arts Center has hosted its fifth annual “Experience Chinatown” festival, characterized by Murals on the facades of 10 favorite neighborhood establishments, including Happy Lamb and Dumpling Cafe. The festival also includes three separate day performance events throughout September with different dancers and musicians. This year, these art installations will run until October 28, and all relate to the theme, “What makes a community special?”
Created in 2017, the Paw Arts Center aims to create spaces for the arts and community gathering and is part of the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center in partnership with Bunker Hill Community College. Throughout the year, it hosts a variety of public art exhibitions, such as the recent “Year of the Tiger”. set up In addition to films, performances and art classes at Mary Sue Hoo Park.
In the past few years, the “Experience Chinatown” festival has shifted, as it was initially launched as a one-day event of performances and activities – without the mural project. However, due to COVID-19, the Pow Arts Center adapted the festival in 2020 to focus on murals as a safe way to enjoy art in the community during the pandemic.
Scope recently spoke with Ashley Young, the center’s theater and performance programming manager, to learn more about this year’s mural, the festival as a whole, and how it impacts the Chinatown community. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about your role at Pow Arts Center.
I am in charge of curating and organizing performances in our theater arts center. I work very closely with our director, Cynthia Wu, to ensure there is a good balance of dance, theater, music and other performance opportunities.
I have been working in my position for the past two and a half years, and it has changed over time. I started at the beginning of the pandemic, and very recently I’ve actually been doing more [work in curating] Performance During my first year on the job, I was doing a lot of virtual programming and still trying to transition the arts to the Paw Arts Center and continue to support our artists in a way that feels virtually safe in our community. It was very important for us. But things are changing a bit now, so we’re back to performing in person.
Tell about the history of this festival. How has the “Chinatown experience” been fruitful?
“Experience Chinatown” was a one-day festival and only grew due to the pandemic. We were trying to find a way to do this during the pandemic and still be safe for the community.
Times were really tough for Chinatown. It was very barren, quiet and sad and many people lost their businesses. We felt it was important for us to create life for Chinatown and create a little more vibrancy for the community at that time. We sat together as a team and brainstormed, ‘How can we make this happen?’
The premise of “Experience Chinatown” was the performance, and we weren’t sure we could do it. Then we were like, ‘How about working with the business? Because they are the ones who are struggling the most right now. We can partner with businesses and maybe do art installations.’ It was an idea, but we weren’t sure how to execute it because there were some logistics of working with Chinatown businesses.
first year [of the festival during COVID]A lot of businesses said no to us because they didn’t really know what we were talking about, but one business believed us, Liuyishou Hot Pot. The second year, we had an example of what it could look like, so a few other businesses were able to say yes to us. And this year, people say ‘yes, go ahead!’
We’ve been doing this for about three years, and every year, it’s been growing little by little.
How did you decide on this year’s theme?
In the first year, we didn’t really have a theme because we were still experimenting, so in the second year, we asked the artists a question to help streamline what the murals looked like. Last year, it was: How do you care for a community in 2021?
This year, I think ‘What makes communities special?’ Create a really compelling question that everyone has a different answer to, and you can feel inspired by other people’s answers.
For example, Anna Duggan slices on Happy Lamb. His answer was ‘community people’, so he drew faces of community people, and it makes you think about the people in your community that make it special for you.
This theme is actually associated with ResLab, which is a different program that we do in collaboration with the Asian Community Development Corporation to create this art project to match residents with artists that will be installed in different locations in Chinatown every year. ResLab always has a theme that they work on, and since ResLab usually opens in the summer and “Experience Chinatown” starts in the summer, we market it together.
What was your process in curating the artists for this show?
For visual artists, we put out an application and they answer one question: What is your relationship with the Chinatown community? This is a good way to gauge how deeply they feel about the festival.
We don’t ask them to answer the same question as the theme because it can be developed as we match the artists with the business and their answers may change as they meet the business and the space they are working in.
The difficult thing is matching them with the business because we have to find exactly the right person who can respond well to a space. We now know some businesses and the types of pieces and styles they prefer on their business fronts.
In terms of performance artists, we have a number of artists that we love to work with and this year we had an idea of people that were in our scope that we wanted to work with again and some new artists that we’ve noticed. Social media.
As Shaw Pong Liu performed with our inaugural artist in residence five years ago, and he has been performing with us for five years. Then, we matched her with Maddie Lamm, who had never acted with us, but I thought would be a really great contrast to her. It really made a beautiful show.
What is special about the mural this year?
This year’s artists were really unique in the sense that they were really supportive of each other. It reminded me that what really makes a community special is the people within it. The artists wanted to be more interactive with each other this year than I’ve ever noticed.
There were some common themes and imagery that popped up that weren’t planned but were the same It was so unintentional that these artists responded so well to each other and their pieces aligned so well.
For example, in Crave Chinatown, Jenny Tran and Victoria Lai’s pieces involved cranes and birds as part of their answer as a symbol for the community. Caitlin Lipton’s piece on Wakuwaku, which is just down the street, also involved birds. His answer was a little different, but the imagery was the same and the answers were unintentionally so cohesive.
What do you love most aboutt “Experience Chinatown”?
What I love most is that we’re doing it outdoors, and we’re bringing these performances into the community, into people’s lives. They may not have planned to come to a festival, but they stop by one by one, see a performance, learn a few dance moves, a few kung fu moves. They just have that moment of feeling connected to art and community.
A guy came up to us one day at our performance and said, ‘I grew up in Boston, but I live in Texas, and I wish there was a community like this in Texas. When I go home, I’ll try to see if there’s a community like this because it’s really special.’ It’s the comments that make us get a little more fuel in our system to keep doing this.
With each year’s “Experience Chinatown”, what are you most looking forward to?
It’s this cross-section of all the different types of people we can interact with. Because in our general programming throughout the year, we invite artists and audiences to come directly to our space. Through “Experience Chinatown,” it’s our chance to reach new audiences, reach new artists, and work directly with the community.
It’s this unique intersection of working with the businesses that make Chinatown alive and special and that create these smells and tastes that make it feel like home, and connecting them with artists and audiences that wouldn’t normally come to us.
“Experience Chinatown” brings us into the community, brings us to our business, and brings us to the audiences we hope to influence.
Here is the full list of murals and their locations:
- Paw Arts Center (99 Albany St.): “Coffee Is Always Beautiful” by Amanda Beard Garcia
- Crave Chinatown (75 Niland St.): “Wing to Wing” by Victoria Lai and Jenny Tran
- APM Coffee (99 Kneeland St.)
- WakuWaku (2 Tyler St.): “In the Clouds” by Katelyn Lipton
- Chin Park (Chinatown Park on Rose Kennedy Greenway)
- Q Restaurant (660 Washington St.): Ponnapa Prakkamakula’s “Everywhere Together”
- Happy Lamb (693 Washington St.): “Mega Baba Ngayon at Kahapon – Women Today and Easter” by Anna Duggan
- Dumpling Cafe (695 Washington St.): “Intergenerational Persistence” by Maria Fong
- Liuyishou Hot Pot (702 Washington St.): “Tigers Hot Pot Together” by Nell Valle
- Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (38 Ash St.): “A Soft Place to Land” by Ashley