Asian Arts Initiative - History

History

Initially a small part of the Painted Bride Art Center, the Asian Arts Initiative (AAI) was created by Gayle Isa who envisioned creating a community of artists which could contribute to the growth of the neighborhood and to its cultural revival. In 1993, as a way of raising awareness about social and racial tension, the Painted Bride Art Center organized an Asian-American festival entitled “Live Traditions/Contemporary Issues,” the first such festival dedicated to Asian American culture in Philadelphia.

In 1996, the AAI separated from the Painted Bride Art Center, becoming an independent non-profit organization and moved into their own building located in the heart of Philadelphia's Chinatown. In the same year, AAI began its first program, Artists in Community Training (ACT), a program meant to provide training for different artists interested in teaching and leading workshops. In 1998, the Youth Arts Workshops was introduced and offered diverse courses in which students of all ages could participate and in order to develop skills in creative writing and the visual arts, including video-making. In the same year, the Rap Series was created as a way for Asian American artists to be able to meet, dialogue and get involved in the community.

In the fall of the year 2000, art shows started to appear in the Asian Arts Initiative building, organized by a group of volunteers. The Gallery program continues to deliver seasons of exciting exhibitions every year. The Asian Arts Initiative was forced to relocate in August 2008, “due to the expansion of the Philadelphia Convention Center,” to a “three-level, 24,000 square-foot building at 1219 Vine Street,” in the northern part of Chinatown, and is now fighting to make its new location permanent. With funding from the City of Philadelphia, the State of Pennsylvania and private sources, the AAI was able to renovate part of the building into a multi-media facility that includes a gallery space and exhibition area, a theater, a media lab and library, and a generous space for workshops and meetings. Today the Asian Arts Initiative is an active organization which is open to the public and has a yearly budget of approximately $650,000, and is rapidly growing.

The Asian Arts Initiative is partnered with the National Performance Network and with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation Mural Arts Program (MAP), through which it hopes to promote its belief that “art produced and presented in the community context,” art which communicates the importance of culture, raises awareness towards neighborhood problems, improves society and mediates conflicts, “can be a powerful engine for social change.”

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