January 19, 2016

Changing Hearts and Minds: How APANO is Using Cultural Work as a Strategy for Change

(Photo: Second year cohort of artists and cultural workers in the Resident Artist Collaborative.)

by Luann Algoso
Community Engagement Manager

“A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the greatest historical contributions of humankind.” - Grace Lee Boggs

If you have ever attended an APANO event in the past, chances are there was a cultural or performative component to the event. Whether you attended our Statewide Convention and felt energized by the power of Taiko drumming, or if you laughed until you cried at our annual Dis/orient/ed Comedy showcase, which highlights national and local AAPI female, queer, and trans comedians, or if you have listened to the stories from API community members on their experiences around abortion, sex, gender, and reproductive health through the WE CARRY OCEANS project - art and culture has historically been a part of APANO’s social justice work since its conception.

At APANO we focus on the usage of the term “cultural work” instead of “art” with the belief that cultural work can be used as a long-term strategy to impact beliefs, actions and policies through elevating the voices of those most impacted and silenced. Cultural work strives to shift harmful narratives and messages, and envision alternatives. We work to center the voices of communities that are directly impacted by injustice and oppression, and ensure that they are leading the creation of these cultural messages. At APANO we believe that there are no lines that separate artists and activists, and hence use the term “cultural worker” as someone who is in service to building movement for justice and liberation.

We are now in a time in APANO’s growth and development where we are starting to make sense of how cultural work can be more integrated as a strategy to help advance our mission to achieve social justice. The two programs that have helped guide us in this process are the member-led APANO Arts and Media Project (AMP) and the grant program, Resident Artist Collaborative: Jade-Midway Placemaking Projects.

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AMP members

From left to right: Candace Kita, Shannon Paine (APANO staff and former AMP co-chair), and June Reyes.[/caption]

AMP is led by co-chairs Candace Kita and June Reyes. Candace is an enthusiastic arts administrator and advocate committed to building powerful connections between art and communities. She currently serves as the Advancement Assistant at the Portland Art Museum and applies her skills in community organizing, project coordination, fundraising, and event management to facilitate ways for groups--especially the Asian Pacific American community and other communities of color--to access creative opportunities and advance culturally-conscious leadership. She is involved in several arts organizations outside of APANO such as the Portland Emerging Arts Leaders and co-manages the blog Asians Doing Everything. June is a guitarist, violinist, violist, and digital media professional. Her love of music began when she started playing violin at the age of six and picked up playing guitar and viola in high school. She likes playing various musical genres including classical, pop, and bluegrass. Most of her digital media experience was born out of organizing for social and environmental advocacy campaigns where she designed graphics and developed websites and web content.

Since its launch back in January 2014, AMP has built a multigenerational base of API artists and creatives from around Portland ranging from a diverse genre of mediums. AMP has members that are musicians, visual artists, creative writers, performance artists, poets, actors, radio show hosts, and designers. The group continues to grow and its identity is constantly shaped by the talents, skills, and passions that each member brings to the space.

The Resident Artist Collaborative, also known as the Jade-Midway Placemaking Projects, also launched in 2014. The grant program centers on lifting up the voices and issues impacting communities that reside in the Jade District and Midway District in East Portland. You can view last year's projects here. Formatted as a cohort model, the first round of artists brought seven different projects that strived to engage communities and to begin the relationship with artists and residents in getting to know each other. Now in the second year, the new cohort of artists and cultural workers have proposed projects that will further the dialogue and motivate community members to move towards action, around issues of access to transit, pedestrian safety, displacement and gentrification in light of the rapid pace of city investment and development in the neighborhoods. Artists/cultural workers in the Collaborative reside, work, and/or volunteer in the neighborhoods or have a strong connection to the communities that reside in the area. The second year cohort bring an eclectic array of projects, as well as a varied set of artistic mediums. The Collaborative proposed projects at the initial phase of the program, but will refine their projects as they go through workshop sessions that take place from January to March. The sessions focus on four objectives:

  1. To build a network of artists and cultural workers affected by gentrification and displacement and people who want to influence transit, walking and bicycling projects in their neighborhoods;
  2. To strengthen our collective analysis about the role of art and culture in defining and redefining place;
  3. To articulate placemaking projects as more than products, but tactics in a cultural strategy used in intentional ways to win the changes we seek;
  4. To collectively develop an approach to placemaking in the Jade and Midway Districts that centers the voices of those most vulnerable to displacement in their own neighborhoods and access to essential destinations through a variety of transportation modes like walking, biking and transit.

The Resident Artist Collaborative just convened the second year cohort of artists on Saturday, January 16th. Though it was a Saturday, the room was filled with energy and excitement as cohort members shared their ideas and built collective analysis together. More information on the cohort and their projects will be available soon.

The role of art and cultural work is a critical and necessary component to sustaining the movement for justice. If you are interested in getting involved with APANO’s cultural work, you can contact Luann Algoso at luann@apano.org.

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