SF art mu­seum aims to heal di­vides

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By LIA ZHU in San Fran­cisco li­azhu@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

As a Don­ald Trump pres­i­dency di­vides com­mu­ni­ties across the US, the Asian Art Mu­seum in San Fran­cisco has af­firmed its role as a safe space, and bet­ter yet, it finds a sil­ver lin­ing of mean­ing to be the bridge to un­der­stand­ing.

“I am deeply trou­bled by the mes­sages of ex­clu­sion and prej­u­dice sur­fac­ing across the coun­try over re­cent months,” Jay Xu, direc­tor of the Asian Art Mu­seum (AAM) said in a mes­sage to the mu­seum staff be­fore the elec­tion. “The echo of those deeply hurt­ful mes­sages will re­main.”

But the mael­strom of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion made him re­al­ize that the mu­seum’s pur­pose and role in the com­mu­nity has be­come more rel­e­vant and essen­tial than ever.

“We are on the front lines of en­gag­ing peo­ple from all back­grounds to un­der­stand Asian art and cul­ture, so our mu­seum be­comes even more im­por­tant, not only in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, but also across the US,” he said.

As a mu­seum of Asian art, rep­re­sent­ing art and cul­tures of 60 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, AAM could play a big­ger role by fos­ter­ing cul­tural em­pa­thy, he added. “Ex­po­sure and knowl­edge are em­pow­er­ing tools in coun­ter­ing fear of the un­fa­mil­iar or dif­fer­ent,” he said.

To in­vite more peo­ple to ex­plore the dif­fer­ences and the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween peo­ple and cul­tures, the AAM launched a so­cial me­dia cam­paign of­fer­ing a 50 per­cent dis­count on mem­ber­ships from Nov 10-13.

Dur­ing the four days, 62,000 peo­ple were reached, 605 pos­i­tive re­ac­tions were re­ceived on Face­book, and 128 mem­ber­ships were sold.

“Our mem­ber­ship of­fer was an op­por­tu­nity to grow our com­mu­nity and bring peo­ple to­gether while re­duc­ing fi­nan­cial bar­ri­ers,” said Kate John­son Laf­ferty, direc­tor of mem­ber­ship and guest ex­pe­ri­ence at the AAM. “A lot of peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the cam­paign.”

Chris Chuang, a San Fran­cisco res­i­dent of Chi­nese de­scent, is one of the sup­port­ers. “It’s more im­por­tant than ever for us to cel­e­brate di­ver­sity as one of the cor­ner­stones of what has made Amer­ica al­ways great,” he said.

“As Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, we are aware that our an­ces­tral back­ground is dif­fer­ent from other Amer­i­cans and im­mi­grants here, but we also know that be­ing Amer­i­can doesn’t mean hav­ing just one nar­ra­tive. In fact there are many fla­vors of this, and that is okay,” said Chuang.

After the elec­tion, a num­ber of museums have shared the same ideal and is­sued state­ments to stand by the mu­seum’s role as a safe space and em­brace in­clu­sion.

The Philbrook Mu­seum of Art in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, said they were launch­ing a pro­gram to of­fer free mem­ber­ships to Ok­la­homa teach­ers. The Ja­panese Amer­i­can Na­tional Mu­seum in Los An­ge­les, in a state­ment, urged Trump to re­mem­ber the in­tern­ment of Ja­panese Amer­i­cas dur­ing WW II and “ag­gres­sively act to pre­vent that kind of his­tory from re­peat­ing it­self”.

Im­mi­gra­tion has been an im­por­tant part of Cal­i­for­nia’s suc­cess, eco­nom­i­cally speak­ing, said Xu.

“Take Chi­nese im­mi­grants for ex­am­ple, they made a tremen­dous con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try by help­ing build the first transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road over 150 years ago,” he said. “Even to­day, the Asian cui­sine has be­come a vi­brant part of Amer­i­can life. In Sil­i­con Val­ley, the high-tech suc­cess has so much to do with Asian tal­ent.”

Through the lens of Asian art and cul­ture, Xu said he be­lieved the mu­seum could en­gen­der bet­ter hu­man in­ter­ac­tions, foster em­pa­thy and re­duce hate.

While en­sur­ing the door s are open to visi­tors from all walks of life, age groups and eth­nic back­grounds, the mu­seum has been mak­ing im­prove­ment to re­in­force the mes­sage of be­ing a mu­seum for all, such as mo­bile seats that can be car­ried through­out the galleries and multi-lan­guage ma­te­ri­als.

“Soon we will launch a dig­i­tal way-find­ing map in English, Chi­nese and Span­ish to ac­com­mo­date visi­tors with lim­ited English pro­fi­ciency, and a new pol­icy will al­low strollers to ac­cess all galleries,” said Laf­ferty.

Ex­po­sure and knowl­edge are em­pow­er­ing tools in coun­ter­ing fear of the un­fa­mil­iar or dif­fer­ent.” Jay Xu, Asian Art Mu­seum direc­tor

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