New Executive Director of Chinese Culture Center San Francisco
As a non-profit whose mandate is to elevate underserved communities and be a voice for Asian artists, the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco commissions artistic works and collaborates with the community in art projects to benefit all of Chinatown. And that’s not all. It provides art education to pre-schoolers through teenagers as well as cultural outreach through events and festivals. It operates a visual arts center with high-quality contemporary art inside the Hilton Hotel in Chinatown. It hosts event space for cultural activities while working closely with partner organizations.
Ten years ago, Jenny Leung worked at CCCSF as a program and exhibitions coordinator. Later, she became the director of communications. Today, the psychology major from Honolulu Chinatown is the new executive director, moving up from her role as deputy director. “The work is very exciting, and I have learned how to provide support for artists within our structure,” she says. “When I first came, I thought my time here would be short, and I would move on to other endeavors, but I fell in love with the community and the exciting mission to provide bold and innovative direction for Asian American artists.” With the pandemic taking center stage, Jenny spoke candidly about the changes taking place at CCCSF and in Chinatown. How has the virus altered Chinatown?
Since January, Chinatown has been hit early on because of anti-Asian stereotypes. People calling it the “Chinese virus” resulted in a sharp decrease in tourism and impacted businesses.
How has it shifted the nature of your organization?
We had to close public spaces to comply with the health order. That changed how we do business. We are a gathering space for the community. We host events and rent out auditorium space. Now we are not able to open, and there are no places to come and gather.
We have tried to be creative to offer an online community. We have had to figure out how we can serve and amplify creativity and the work of the artists. Everyone has had to adapt and change.
Since your museum is closed, how can the public get access to see the art?
We are converting everything online on www.cccsf.us. We have been working on social media, and there are videos on our current exhibition called Homing about the sounds of Chinatown from Taiwanese artist Hung Tzu Ni.
Digital performances will come online on Instagram. As part of being in community, we are sharing Chinatown relief efforts and resources. We have projects such as stories of belonging with Christine Wong Yap. A volunteer at CCDC talks about how volunteering has given him a sense of belonging. Another talks about having the comfort of milk tea and boba.
How has this impacted you personally?
We are all working from home, and that is an adjustment. I feel lucky that we have a purpose, and there is such a great need so we can pivot to be of service to the community. We are seeing people wanting to help and support us.
What will it take for Chinatown to recover?
We are planning for the recovery process. We anticipate that until a vaccine comes, things will not be normal very soon. Right now there is a huge problem with isolation and mental health. We are figuring out how we can offer creativity that is health and wellness-based. After we go back, we will have to navigate a new normal.
Part of Chinatown’s recovery is figuring how to re-introduce Chinatown to the public and welcome people back. We need to have programming around that. It was hit early, so now we have an opportunity to take a hold of that narrative and shape it. So much of Chinatown’s economy is dependent on tourism. We want to encourage people from other neighborhoods to spend time here. We need to support local merchants and local initiatives. We want to have people come and show some love to our neighborhood in need and support the underserved.
How is CCCSF helping out in the recovery?
CCC is working closely to launch a yearlong arts festival to promote the community with community partners such as Center for Asian American Media, Chinatown Community Development Center. We are also supporting merchants by collaborating with SF Chinatown Visitor Information Center to promote Chinatown.