Here it goes—my first blog! I had promised never to write one as I didn’t think I had anything to say. Well, I guess I was wrong. I found that ever since I became the Director of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) this summer and we moved to our beautifully designed new home in September, I actually have lots to say. This blog will share a personal side of MOCA—our exhibits and programs, the Chinatown neighborhood where we are located (215 Centre Street), the people who bring the museum to life every day, and what a working museum is like from the point of view of the people on the inside, not just me, but our staff and volunteers, who will also contribute to this blog.
It’s been over two months since the museum opened with a lion dance outside our front door to give us good fortune and Mayor Mike doing the honors by dotting the lion’s eyes to bring it to life. We made sure that the lion dancer came inside to make a round of our indoor spaces to bless all the rooms and offices. The staff also had plenty of red packets to feed the lion through his hungry mouth. We want the good fortune to keep coming, so during our Lunar New Year festival exhibition, visitors can write down their own wishes and words of wisdom and slip them into the lion’s mouth.
Before the opening, we also invited a feng shui master to give us a reading. One might ask why we went to all the fuss of engaging in what some might call “superstition.” I want these ceremonies to honor the spirit of the museum—telling the stories of Chinese in America but also honoring the SPIRITS that are part of the museum’s heritage. The heart of the museum is the atrium and central courtyard with a skylight, reminiscent of an old Chinese
courtyard house—all but a few of which have disappeared in China today. Around the atrium are five tall glass windows on which are projected portraits of Chinese Americans in our core exhibition. On the exhibition side of the portraits you can see and hear their stories narrated by Chinese American actors speaking monologues written by famous Chinese American writers based on first person accounts. When you stand at the top of the stairway down to the office and classroom area on the courtyard/atrium side of these images, these portraits are like ghosts staring back at you. These “ghost” stories are the fabric of our past.
I had never thought of feng shui or lion dances as superstitious. Instead I see them as a way of honoring our heritage and traditions–and our resident ghosts. No, the museum is NOT haunted, but is a living breathing museum with true stories of real people, past and present. Hopefully these stories will inspire your future—you, our visitors.
Since its auspicious opening, the museum has been doing well. We have had some great programs. On October 25, we had our first food event, Dumplings, Dim Sum and Delectables, featuring seven of the top young Chinese American chefs in New York City.
What a fantastic evening of food and friendship! Check out this link to savor the food and culinary talent from that evening.
MOCA’s Young Professionals group hosted a fun T-shirt design evening. The winning T-shirt designs have been reproduced in a limited edition available for sale at the MOCA Store.
We had an exciting speaker the other night, the visionary urban architect Dean Qingyun Ma of USC School of Architecture, speaking on Culture with No Physical Icons. This talk will be viewable on video at the MOCA website soon. We will be taping as many programs as possible so if you can’t come to an event, you can watch it later on the website.
For the December 8 annual China Town Hall sponsored by the National Committee on US-China Relations, we joined with 38+ institutions around the country to take part in a live webcast featuring Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who told us about President Obama’s recent trip to China. Before linking up with the other Town Hall groups, our participants listened to a talk by Professor Yu Zhou of Vassar College.
It really is gratifying to have enough space to put on these meaningful programs and make it available for use by students and other groups. When the museum is closed to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there are non-stop education programs. The other day sitting in my office, I could hear a group of 4th graders in the Chow Cultural Program Center above me and a class of Chinese American seniors learning English in the downstairs classroom.
Our audience is diverse and comes from the New York City region as well as from much further away.
Right now, the Bloomberg Special Exhibition Gallery is featuring Here & Now: Chinese Artists in New York. Currently on display is Chapter II: Crossing Boundaries featuring four artists with different takes on Chinese cultural identity. The sculptured heads of Buddha, Lincoln and Ben Franklin are made of old telephone books. What fun!
My next blog will be about our December 16 gala. In the meantime, come and check out MOCA, ghosts and all, when you are in New York!
Director, The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)