The Wing: At Home in an Era of Global Participatory Culture

By Beth Takekawa, Executive Director
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Cover of Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture Report

Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture Report

Hot off the presses is the IMLS publication “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture!” Scrolling through the pages produced a flood of memories as I was honored to be one of 58 museum, library and cultural heritage leaders from 31 countries to gather in October 2011 for the Salzburg Global Seminar summarized in this publication. Beginning with my arrival in Innsbruck in the middle of the Occupy Innsbruck protest (I recognized the “99%” banners), to breaking bread with amazing cultural leaders working in all sort of challenging circumstances: I was inspired and gained courage to advance the work of my museum.

Back home I shared with our Board and staff members that WE are part of a global advance, including

  • Noha Adly, whose personal story illustrated the important role of libraries in the Arab Spring and why multilingual search capability is important for social movements and not just for librarians.
  • Johannes Vogel, who revealed that not only are there 2 million (!) fishermen in the UK, but a museum can train a cadre of fly fishermen to be Citizen Scientists, ambassadors for clean water and insecticide alternatives.
  • Our new global colleagues continue to inspire after the seminar: Thanks Madacki Sasa for letting us know that the International Convention of Slavic Librarians had the theme of “Librarianship. Human rights. Activism.”

We are not your grandfather’s libraries or museums.

image of Sikh American youth prepping materials for exhibition

The Wing’s community-based exhibition model in action, developing "Virsa: Our History," by Sikh American youth.

I work every day at The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, which is centered on a community-directed exhibition development model. Community members are engaged to tell their stories to the public in a museum setting, and a high level of community ownership and stewardship results. Over the years our approach has sometimes pegged us as an outlier among museums, but we found our global people at this seminar.

Since the seminar, and inspired by the participatory era, The Wing experimented with our From Fields to Family exhibition on Asian Americans and food. We issued a call for food photographs from your home meals to be displayed via Flickr and continuing to expand the exhibit after it opened.

We recently opened the exhibition Inside/Out: APA Girls and Suicide, creating dialogue around a difficult topic and inspiring visitors with messages of survival and hope. The exhibit calls for short response videos to build the dialogue beyond the exhibit panels:

Throwing 58 highly opinionated and dedicated leaders together for a few intensive days in Salzburg had its all-nighter study hall moments in the drive to use our short time together to serve all libraries and museums. I learned from my new colleague Anupam Sah a phrase “diya taley andhera,” it is always darkest right under the light. Together we reached the light that is contained in this publication, and we’re not done. The best is yet to come.

Beth Takekawa is Executive Director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing), a community-based cultural institution in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, the only pan-Asian Pacific American museum in the nation, and the first Smithsonian Institution affiliate in the Pacific Northwest. She has been on staff at The Wing since 1997, and has over 25 years’ experience in community economic development, working in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

About the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience
The mission of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (The Wing) is to connect everyone to the rich history, dynamic cultures and art of Asian Pacific Americans through vivid storytelling and inspiring experiences.

Founded in 1966, The Wing is a community and cultural anchor located in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. Our name is a tribute to community hero Wing Luke, an immigrant from China, the first person of color elected to Seattle’s City Council in 1962, and the first Asian Pacific American (APA) elected official in the Pacific Northwest. The Wing engages the public in the history, culture and art of APAs through community-driven exhibitions and public programs, educational resources and youth programs, tours and neighborhood revitalization activities. Over the past 20 years, The Wing has developed and refined a community-based approach to all of our exhibitions and projects. The Wing is the only pan-APA museum in the nation and the first affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in the Pacific Northwest. Located at 719 S. King Street, Seattle, WA 98104.

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