SinoVision: Resilience of The Chinatown Art Brigade

Betty Yu and The Chinatown Art Brigade use art to raise awareness and give a voice to communities being threatened by gentrification.

With strong ties to her Chinese roots and the strong will of a revolutionary, Betty fights to preserve the history of Manhattan's Chinatown which is rich with perseverance and a sense community built during a time of severe discrimination.

The Chinatown Art Brigade understands the importance of reaching out to and involving the people of the communities they represent. After all, it is their stories that need to be told.

Aired on SinoVision

Art Reflects Reality in Chinatown Exhibit on Housing

Members of the Chinatown Art Brigade at the “Resilience / Resistance” exhibit at Pearl River Mart. Photo by Betty Yu

Members of the Chinatown Art Brigade at the “Resilience / Resistance” exhibit at Pearl River Mart. Photo by Betty Yu

By Kari Lindberg

A pair of chopsticks, a small table laden with bowls of sweet dumpling soup being eaten by an older Chinese woman, a wall painted the color of yellow pus with air bubbles and peeling flakes are all images reflected back in the photographs hanging on the second-floor mezzanine gallery of the new Pearl River Mart, at 385 Broadway.

The images are part of a multimedia exhibition titled, “Resilience / Resistance,” by the Chinatown Art Brigade, a collective of Asian American artists, media makers and activists with roots in New York City’s Chinatown, and will be running until Sun., Jan. 22.

Co-founded in 2015 by Tomie Arai, ManSee Kong and Betty Yu, the Chinatown Art Brigade seeks to use art to address broader issues of displacement and gentrification in Chinatown. According to the New York University Furman Center’s “State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods in 2015” report, the Chinatown / Lower East Side area has seen a 50.3 percent percentage change in average rent from 1990 to 2010-2014, making it one of the city’s most gentrified neighborhoods during that period, second only to Williamsburg.

Watching a video by Betty Yu. Photo by Betty Yu

Watching a video by Betty Yu. Photo by Betty Yu

“Resilience / Resistance” provides a platform for the Chinatown Art Brigade to build a bridge between the Chinatown community and local residents unaware of its changes. In doing so, the exhibition has grounded its work on art produced by Chinese tenants experiencing landlord harassment.

“What makes our artwork unique, is that it is really centered around the tenants,” said co-founder Yu. “Not only are they resilient — like the title of the show — but also they’re doing their own organizing.”

Highlighting the tenant artwork is a series of six photos by three local Chinese tenant leaders who are organizing their buildings to fight against their housing conditions: Mimi Yan, who is still involved in a lawsuit with her landlord over living conditions; Zheng Zhi Qin, whose landlord cut off her building’s hot water as an eviction strategy; and David Tang, who was subjected to construction harassment by his landlord to make his building so unlivable that residents would rather move out.

David Tang gestures to his photos documenting substandard living conditions and construction harassment in Chinatown. Photo by Betty Yu

David Tang gestures to his photos documenting substandard living conditions and construction harassment in Chinatown. Photo by Betty Yu

Together their six photos show snippets of daily lives, ranging from a tradition of making sweet dumpling soup with friends and family, to buying produce from vendors underneath the Manhattan Bridge, to the physical walls of their home — yellowed with years of water damage.

Daily life is also given a voice though three continuously looping documentaries, made by co-founders Yu and See. One film by Yu documents her parents’ lives as Chinatown garment workers, while two others by See portray older Chinatown residents.

Adding to the emotional, visual and auditory mix are infographics made by Yu. These plainly state market-rate rents for the area as ranging from $1,200 to $9,500, compared to $934, which would be the rent for affordable housing for a family of four making the average median rent of $37,362.

READ the Entire Article HERE

Bedford and Bowery: How a Bunch of Brave New Futurists Zapped the Old Pearl River Mart Back to Life

By Nicole Disser

“Preservationist” has become something of a slur, used to denigrate the old-timers and neo-hippies who’d rather save ratty old tenant buildings and dusty mom-and-pop stores than make way for clean big-box stores with cheap stuff for everyone, and skyscraping mixed-use luxury complexes with their affordable housing pittance. It’s sorta like: C’mon, New York City is, by its nature, dynamic and changing. But the ever-faster pace of development and the lightyear rate of change have made for an urban landscape where transformation takes place exponentially and squeezes out the very people who have made this city vibrant and interesting in the first place.

Over the weekend, a slew of more than 40 local and visiting artists, as well as organizations like the Chinatown Art Brigade (a grassroots effort tackling the divisive issue of gallery-led gentrification in their neighborhood) demonstrated that preservation doesn’t have to be backward-looking.

Read the entire article here

A booth dedicated to the old Pearl River Mart (Photo: Nicole Disser)

A booth dedicated to the old Pearl River Mart (Photo: Nicole Disser)

Hyperallergic: Artists and Gallerists Grapple with Ways to Slow Gentrification in Manhattan’s Chinatown

By Ilana Novick

For Liz Moy, a Chinatown native, artist, and member of Chinatown Art Brigade, 2012’s Black Foliage group show in the Chinatown Arcade was a small but uneasy signal that the art world had its eyes, and real estate dollars, on Chinatown. The press release described the exhibition space as a former “cell phone dispensary within the alley at 48 Bowery … a truly unique space recently uncovered by some of New York’s most adventurous curators,” as if the alley, which connects the Bowery and Elizabeth Street was waiting to be discovered, and not already home to longstanding businesses.

“I rationalized to myself that it was just a pop-up,” just like any number of group shows she’d been to or participated in, Moy told the 200 people who crammed into Artists Space Saturday night for Decolonize This Place, Artists Space, and the Chinatown Art Brigade’sevent, “Chinatown Is Not For Sale.” At the panel discussion and town hall event, artists, gallery owners, and community members discussed the role of galleries in Chinatown’s gentrification, and whether they can be a part of preventing it.

Peter Kwong, Hunter College Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Policy, began the night with a brief but illuminating presentation that placed economic changes in Chinatown in the context of larger market forces in New York City that have fueled large-scale neighborhood change everywhere from the East Village to Harlem. He explained that Chinatown, is “under attack … guided by aggressive corporate strategy with real estate development whenever possible,” particularly since September 11 and with the gradual disappearance of the garment industry, a key economic engine for the neighborhood. Landlords, are “trying to sell an exotic brand,” but in doing so are pushing longtime tenants out of their homes. He also noted that the presence of art galleries is often the first sign that large-scale development will follow. The audience for the panel — a mix of residents, activists, artists, and gallery owners — was surprisingly in agreement over many of Kwong’s and other speakers’ points, differing mainly on the question of whether City Council Member Margaret Chin is a friend of the cause or an activist who had sold out to developers.

Given that galleries are often a harbinger of gentrification, the million-dollar question of the night was: can artists and galleries play a role in preventing the displacement of longtime residents and the businesses and organizations that serve them while also preserving their own artistic practices and businesses? Going by the responses of the enthusiastic, engaged audience and the panelists, the answer is a resounding yes.

Or more specifically, yes, but as long as gallery owners and artists take responsibility for their roles in displacement. This includes learning about any tenants and businesses they may have displaced in order to live in the neighborhood and open galleries, and becoming active members in big and small ways, in both local organizing efforts to protect existing tenants (like the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence’s Organizing Asian Communities initiative) and in citywide efforts to fight for zoning laws and housing policy that support Chinatown’s existing economy and tenants, and preserve buildings and businesses for the future.

Betty Yu, a co-founder of the Chinatown Art Brigade, is both an artist and a native New Yorker, and drew on both experiences to present the Brigade’s eight-point pledge of resistance for artists and gallery owners. The document includes a map, designed by Moy, showing the new galleries that have arrived in Chinatown and highlighting sites of displacement. The pledge begins with what Yu calls “the lowest hanging fruit” of simply getting to know a gallery’s neighbors and finding which tenants and businesses the gallery might have displaced, all the way to assisting in organizing efforts started by existing advocacy groups, and pressuring elected officials to support the Chinatown Working Group’s Rezoning Plan and other policies that support affordable housing.

Read the entire article here

Bowery Boogie: Site of Mass Displacement: A Chinatown Gentrified by Galleries [Op-Ed]

The following was written by Liz Moy of the Chinatown Art Brigade.

There is an ongoing perception that Manhattan’s Chinatown has stayed relatively the same throughout the years whilst other low-income neighborhoods of color have been overtaken by gentrification. Ask someone how Chinatown fares in an increasingly unaffordable city and they’ll likely say, at least it’s “still Chinese.” However, to further this narrative of Chinatown as a holdout to displacement, as did last year’s New York Magazine article, would be a large injustice to the growing number of tenants whose livelihoods are most at risk.

Photo by KahEan Chang

Photo by KahEan Chang

Over 100 galleries currently reside in Chinatown. This includes artist-run spaces, non-profits, galleries run out of apartments, and of course, more monied white box spaces. In such a large number, they have inarguably changed the landscape of Chinatown and the demographic of people who pass through it every day. This is in addition to the already sweeping commercial development happening, leaving Chinatown with hordes of luxury hotels and rising condominiums. The categorical differences between these galleries are irrelevant to the long-term residents whose homes these galleries neighbor. Many working class tenants are facing landlord harassment, forced evictions, and unsafe living conditions caused by illegal construction. To many, galleries are simply the businesses that replaced the restaurant or store that served them for decades. To others, in contrast with their cramped living quarters, the mostly empty spaces are stark visual indicators of inequality.

Read the rest of the op-ed here

Hyperallergic: Gentrification, the Art Gallery Influx, and Other Pressures on Manhattan’s Chinatown

By Betty Yu

Displacement and gentrification in Manhattan’s Chinatown has accelerated in the last few years. The influx of art galleries, hi-rise luxury condos, and hotels is jarring. At the same time, Chinese immigrant working class tenants are facing landlord harassment, living under unsafe conditions, and forced evictions. Small businesses, stores and restaurants that have been serving the Chinatown community for decades are closing to make way for high-end establishments, businesses, and art galleries.

Another projection from September 24 (photo by Louis Chan, image courtesy Chinatown Art Brigade)

In the past eight years, 100 galleries have opened in Chinatown with over 60% of them opening up in the last three years. Since galleries have been priced out of Chelsea they have been moving into Chinatown, it has been dubbed by some of the media as the “last frontier of downtown New York.” These galleries have contributed to the rapidly rising rents. There are galleries that are paying upwards of $9,000 a month, while low-income tenants next door are paying hundreds of dollars to share a small room in a dilapidated building. This kind of inequality is unconscionable. While it’s true that the galleries are one part of the larger machine of gentrification, it’s important as community-based artists that we hold these artist institutions accountable for their role in displacing Chinatown residents.  Their real estate choices have real consequences that affect people’s material living conditions. A 2013 report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund revealed that the number of Chinese residents in the area has declined between 2000 and 2010, while the number of white residents has increased. In 2011 less than half of the Chinatown population was foreign-born.


Bowery Boogie: ‘Chinatown Art Brigade’ Takes a Stand with Anti-Gentrification Projections [INTERVIEW]

“Gentrification is Modern Colonialism,” read the illuminated stencil above the corner of Chrystie and Grand Streets. That was but one message that traveled through the neighborhood last Saturday night.
These rather straightforward projections come courtesy of the Chinatown Art Brigade, which roams the namesake area armed with a light projector and a mantra of anti-gentrification.

We caught up with the Brigade’s founders – Betty Yu, Tomie Arai, and ManSee Kong – to learn more about the goals and inspirations.

Bowery Boogie: Describe your organization, its founding, and goals with the nighttime projections.

Photo: Mike Hong

Photo: Mike Hong

Betty Yu: In 2015, Tomie Arai, ManSee Kong and I formed Chinatown Art Brigade, a cultural collective committed to advancing social justice. It was in direct response to the rapid gentrification that we’ve been seeing in Chinatown. The 3 of us are artists, media makers and activists who have history and deep connections to Chinatown. We are working in close partnership with CAAAV and the Chinatown Tenants Union, a Chinatown-based community organization that organizes for tenant rights, against evictions and displacement of working class immigrant Chinese tenants. One of the major goals of our collective has been to help advance the community-led organizing efforts against gentrification. CAAAV is doing the on-the-ground organizing work and we feel that as a collective of artists, our role is to help amplify the stories and voices of those in the frontlines, most directly affected by displacement. More specifically one of our messages in our projections have been appealing to NY City Councilmember Margaret Chin to pass a community-created Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan that has provisions to protect affordable housing and curb future displacement. Currently this plan is being ignored by the DeBlasio administration despite the community’s outrcry for it to be passed.

Photo: KahEan Chang

Photo: KahEan Chang

We launched “Here to Stay,” a project that includes a series of large-scale outdoor mobile projections that addresses the themes of gentrification, displacement, community resistance and resilience in NYC’s Chinatown. Over the summer we held cultural production workshops with community members, artists and tenants. Through oral histories, storytelling circles, photography, placekeeping walking tours and mapping activities we co-created the images and content that would be projected onto buildings and public landmarks in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Tomie Arai: Forming alliances and collaborations with other progressive groups is also one of the goals for our project. The Illuminator, a political collective that has stage hundreds of projections in communities across the country, has been an important partner. Their technical assistance and their experience has been instrumental to the success of our Here to Stay project.

BB: What do you hope the response will be?

BY: We had our first projection last Saturday, September 24, and the response from local community members has been really positive. The content for the projections was produced in close collaboration with Chinatown tenants and community members. It was important that the content was bilingual and cultural accessible. Our intended audience for the projections was the local community and Chinatown residents. Gentrification and displacement is on the top of everyone’s mind across communities in New York City. As more than 100 galleries move into Chinatown, condos, hotels, bars and fancy restaurants open up all around Chinatown, and hundreds of long time low-income residents are rapidly getting pushed out – it can feel overwhelming and impossible to stop. But what we are hoping to do (even on a smaller scale) is project the stories of other Chinatown tenants who are fighting back and organizing with others – and we hope to reach others who are sick and tired of what’s happening and want to get involved. We want them to know there is an organization like CAAAV that can join and unite with others to fight back.

ManSee Kong: We’re also hoping that the elected officials and city agencies will take notice and hear the community’s demands and concerns around rezoning and displacement.

Read the entire article HERE

i-D/Vice Article: why local nyc artists are fighting ‘artwashing’

By Annie Armstrong

"This neighborhood has changed" has become a clichéd "thing New Yorkers say" in 2016. The phrase echoes from Bushwick's graffiti-covered walls to the gallery-lined streets of Chinatown. But when we check out exhibitions and street art in these "up-and-coming" neighborhoods, we often fail to recognize an important part of the problem — "art washing." Coined by The Atlantic in 2014, the term refers to the superficial cultural narrative that new art spaces and non-native artists bring to gentrifying communities.

It might not seem obvious, but a newly commissioned mural of Biggie in Bed-Stuy can be just as much a signifier of gentrification as the LaCroix wall at Williamsburg's new Whole Foods. Gentrification isn't just the influx of fancy condominiums, it's also the art a community chooses to show, and who creates it. New York City has always been a welcoming destination for young, struggling artists, but how those artists live in and interact with their new neighborhoods also needs to be questioned.

Artwashing is a symptom of the mass gentrification of many major cities in the US. In Los Angeles, anti-gentrification activists have been speaking out against the wave of new art galleries cropping up in the rapidly changing Boyle Heights neighborhood; Atlanta's public art-heavy BeltLine project has redefined the city's infrastructure, making it even less accessible to low-income families; and in London, the city's abandoned buildings have been transformed into either art spaces or luxury high-rises instead of low-income housing, despite public outcry.

In New York City, this issue is often glossed over by both city officials and the city's growing population — to the detriment of long-standing local communities. In Chinatown, local artist Elizabeth Moy mapped out the galleries in the six blocks surrounding Mott Street. The map shows 91 galleries located in the area, and 60% of them opened in the last three years. This kind of growth mirrors that of Chelsea, which changed from a strictly residential community into one of the city's cultural centers after Dia:Chelsea opened in 1987. Today, as galleries are now being priced out of Chelsea, New York's art world is migrating southeast.

Betty Yu, a local artist fighting to keep the "local" prefix, tells i-D, "People see Chinatown as cheap art space that is now in a hip, central neighborhood with cheap coffee. And they don't give a damn if locals in the area never come in, because they're looking for that sale. The two sales they get for $5,000 each are good enough for them for the month. That's really problematic. The perception right now is that Chinatown doesn't actually have its own real culture. People think it doesn't have anything historical to preserve in culture or in art. There have been elected officials who are more or less saying that." 

"So how do we deal with these art galleries that are cropping up in the neighborhood?" asks Yu. "They need to become more community-oriented, no doubt. Unfortunately, way back when, the city council elected to preserve the East Village, but they gave up on Chinatown." Several official organizations dedicated to preserving the East Village, Greenwich Village, and Lower East Side have received funding from the city council, such as Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Lower East Side Preservation Initiative. But efforts to preserve Chinatown have been left to grassroots initiatives. 

Read the rest of the article here:

Artsy: Chinatown Residents Speak Out about the Area’s Influx of Art Galleries

By Casey Lesser  

In the heart of Chinatown last Tuesday evening, some three dozen New Yorkers filed into the neighborhood’s oldest store, Wing On Wo & Co., to discuss the recent influx of galleries to the area. Surrounded by fine antique porcelain vessels and dishes, friends, colleagues, and new faces commingled, warmly greeting one another as they found seats and nibbled on sponge cake. In attendance were members of the local community, artists, and arts professionals; notably absent were the owners and employees of galleries that have recently cropped up in Chinatown. (A speaker would later refer to them as “the elephant that is not in the room.”) And despite the evening’s cheerful beginnings, what ensued was anything but.

The evening’s talk was presented by the W.O.W. Project in collaboration with the Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB). Located at Wing On Wo & Co. and launched just months ago by the store’s 25-year-old proprietor—Mei Lum, who ditched grad school plans earlier this year to help her grandmother run the shop—the W.O.W. Project aims to inspire cultural awareness and creative thinking through talks, workshops, design challenges, and eventually, artist residencies. CAB, run by three local artists, shares the same goal of supporting the culture and history of Chinatown. It will launch a roving public art project this summer that engages the local community and addresses gentrification. It was important to the organizers that the talk, “Chinatown: New York’s Newest Gallery Scene?” take place here, in a community center, rather than in an art space. 

And the topic of the evening was clearly of concern to many: An overflow space was livestreaming the action two doors down, and a remote group in San Francisco had gathered to watch together and contribute questions on Twitter, via the hashtag #CtownNot4Sale. As the main event began, attention turned to the organizers and panelists—artist and CAB co-founder Tomie Arai, director of exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America Herb Tam, and founder of nonprofit gallery Chinatown Soup Michelle Marie Esteva. And as the group delved into the fraught question of the neighborhood’s gentrification, a palpable tension slowly permeated the room.

Read the entire article here: