Latest ASIAN POP column for the SF Chronicle: "The Living Museum," on the importance of community museums
For nearly three decades, the institution now known as the Museum of Chinese in America was housed in a cramped and awkward space on the second floor of a former schoolhouse at the corner of Mulberry and Bayard on the back end of Chinatown. Dark, anonymous and inaccessible to the handicapped and elderly, the space was ill-equipped to offer the visibility and traffic flow demanded by an exhibition-oriented institution. But despite these challenges -- despite being limited for years to a single-room gallery small enough for a hand-holding couple to bridge from wall to wall -- MoCA has long been one of the most vibrant and ambitious arts organizations in New York's Asian American community, constantly pushing the envelope of what was possible given its meager resources; indeed, it has repeatedly proven itself, as the New York Times wrote back in 1996, to be the "little museum that could," emulating the redoubtable strivers whose stories their collection and programming have so richly documented.Well, if there's any lesson our immigrant forebears have imparted to succeeding generations (I certainly had it drummed into me!), it's that if you push hard enough at the envelope, it eventually bursts -- something quite in evidence last week as MoCA finally unveiled its gorgeous new $8.1 million quarters on the transitional frontier between proletarian Chinatown and posh SoHo, designed by architectural wunderkind Maya Lin (of Vietnam War Memorial fame).