Asian American Arts Centre was founded in 1974 in New York City to address the distinctive concerns of Asian Americans in the United States. Its mission is to promote the preservation and creative vitality of Asian American cultural growth through the arts, and its historical and aesthetic linkage to other communities. The Arts Centre accomplishes this by presenting and interpreting the ongoing synthesis of contemporary American and Asian art forms, utilizing performance, exhibition, and public education.
Background and Achievements
Asian American Arts Centre was founded in 1974 in New York as the Asian American Dance Theatre, a not-for-profit community arts organization. Over the years, its programs have expanded to include four major areas: performance presentations, exhibitions and catalogue publication, folk arts research and documentation, and education. Located in New York's Chinatown, the Arts Centre has held many of its programs in other sites and locations in the country. Performances and exhibition have toured to southern and western states as well as to Hong Kong. The video "Singing to Remember" has been featured in numerous video festivals and conferences across the country. Since its inception, the organization has contracted a thousand artists, of which approximately 40% have been women, and every year reaches countless numbers of audiences through the television media and live presentations.
Current major programs include the Exhibition series and catalogue production begun in 1983, the Asian American Artists' Slide Archive begun in 1982, a permanent research archive of over 1400 entires documenting since 1945 the history of Asian American Artists in the United States, the Traditional Arts Presentation and Documentation program begun in 1985, and the Community Art School and the Arts-in-Education program begun in 1978. The Artists-in-Residence program concluded in 1993 having supported nineteen young artists.
The Arts Centre's Traditional Arts program aims to research and present the traditional arts as art practices with spiritual, ethical, health, and communal components. Far from naive, these folk art/life practices serve to maintain a satisfying balance in life. The Arts Centre is mindful of traditional art's potential to offer contemporary perceptions an equanimity that has eluded the stress of modern conceits and the pursuit of excellence.
Some of the highlights in the exhibition program included the year-long "CHINA: June 4, 1989" exhibition series with 270 artists shown at PS1 and Blum Helman Warehouse of which 30 artists works later traveled to Cleveland, Texas, Michigan, and Hong Kong, "The Mind's I Series" in 1986 on the issue of identity, "Public Art in Chinatown" in 1988 on new metaphors for the community, "And He Was Looking for Asia" in 1992 on diverse alternative stories of Christopher Columbus, "Passion and Compassion: Five Artists Reflections on Buddhism" 1996, "Three Generations: Towards a History of Asian American Art" in 1997, and a series of three historical exhibitions entitled "Asian American Artists and Their Milieu: 1945 to 1965" documenting a cultural presence spanning over 70 years, "Stream Segment" in 1997 featured American artists influenced by Asian as part of the Annual series where emerging artists are exhibited, "7lb 9oz: The Reintegration of Tradition in Contemporary Art" 1999, etc. Collaborative exhibitions include "We Count! The State of Asian Pacific America" 1992 in conjunction with Mayor Dinkins' Asian Affairs Office documenting the twenty major issues facing the Asian American Community, "Betrayal and Empowerment" in 1994 with Columbia University Teachers College in which the Arts Centre participated in a symposia on Asian Americans, "Ancestors" in 1995 on African American and Asian American historic ties and aesthetic relations with Kenkeleba House, "Cross Cultural Voices" in 1999 with Korea Society and Steven Gang Gallery, and 'AAAC Story' n 2001 reviewing the 27 year history of the Arts Centre.
A picture of Asian American art has developed from this work; the roles of family, community, identity, tradition, folk sources, spirituality, the marketplace and politics of art and innovative personalities have all been essential in shaping the cultural presence of Asians in the US in the 21st century.
Other highlights in programming over the years include: the Chinese "Nuo" Masks 1999 and Shadow Puppets Exhibition; the folk arts documentation video of Uncle Ng "Singing to Remember" which enabled him to receive the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship award and later be featured at a gala performance in San Francisco in 1996, (a CD of his "Muk-Yu" or Wooden Fish music with extensive notes will be released soon); the Flushing Council on the Arts "Paper Deities in New York" in 1998 enabled the exhibition of the AAAC permanent collection of Chinese folk art. The Asian American Dance Theatre company was notable for its early development and pioneer promotion of contemporary Asian American dance, precursor to many new choreographers of east and west synthesis. Eleanor S. Yung's choreography has yet to be re-discovered, her annual New York Dance Season 1976-90, her cross country performance tours begun in 1978, her D'Asia Vu choreographer showcase and performance series, and all the traditional and contemporary dancers who she supported.
Amongst other developments, the organization was also a past recipient of an NEA and NYSCA Advancement Grant, a major research grant from the Rockefellar Foundation in 1990 and again in 1999, a LINK award from the Bronx Borough President's Office for the Arts-in-Education program entitled the "Pointed Brush." The Arts Centre was one of the founding organizations of the Asian American Arts Alliance and the Asian New Dance Coalition. AAAC¬¨¬®¬¨¬†s director was a key board member in the national advocacy organization, The Association of American Cultures (TAAC) for eight years also serving for a year as its chairman. Seven issues of the publication Artspiral focused on contemporary issues in the arts, has now become www.artspiral.org where current programs, organizational history, and the Archive of Asian American artists can be found.