Who We Are
Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB) is an intergenerational, womxn-led collective driven by the fundamental belief that our cultural, material, and aesthetic modes of production have the power to advance social change. CAB is comprised of Asian American and Asian diasporic identifying visual artists, media makers, writers, educators, and organizers with deep roots in Manhattan's Chinatown. Together we make work that centers art and culture as a way to support community-led campaigns around issues of gentrification and displacement.
Since 9/11, Chinatown has seen the loss of more than 600 garment factories and over 15,000 housing units for low income families. Over 20% of its Chinese population has been forced to relocate with a 30% rise in luxury housing and a swiftly growing white population that threatens to replace the cultural identity of the neighborhood. Small businesses, restaurants and spaces that have served the community for decades are being rampantly replaced by hotels and galleries. As New York City becomes increasingly unaffordable for long time residents, we ask who are the major players in this wholesale transformation of the city’s poor and working class neighborhoods?
The mass displacement we are witnessing is the result of ‘predatory equity’—the practice of large scale corporate investment in buildings with low-income and rent-stabilized apartments, towards the goal of renovating and flipping them for market rate rents. Landlords achieve this by pushing rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes through MCIs, harassment, buyouts, and deliberate negligence. It is this practice that has driven the movement to build tenant power and fight for lasting protections, especially in communities of color that are hardest hit by real estate speculation and discriminatory housing policies. At the core of CAB's work is our partnership with the Chinatown Tenants Union (CTU), a program of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. Founded in 2005, CTU creates space and leadership training for residents to come together with a unified voice to fight for greater tenant protections. This includes rallying campaigns against unjust evictions and direct support for more equitable, community envisioned rezonings. These on-the-ground strategies are what guides our work and what planted the seeds for the original Here to Stay project. Incepted in 2015 by CAAAV and co-founders Tomie Arai, ManSee Kong, and Betty Yu, the Here to Stay project was designed to bolster support for the Chinatown Working Group Plan and CTU's base building process. It also marked the formation of the CAB collective.
We continue to use large-scale light projection, in partnership with the Illuminator, as a highly visible platform for local residents. The projection events amplify messages written in love, anger, hope, and concern for our neighborhood spaces and allow us to reimagine what our shared futures could be in these built environments. Over the past 3 years our work has also included workshops, placekeeping walks, exhibitions, panels, town halls, and direct actions. As a collective, we are engaged in work that is intentionally situated in community spaces; work that raises questions, links stories together and asks why these stories matter. But we recognize that gentrification and displacement are not just Chinatown issues. Historic neighborhoods across the country and the world are at risk, from Johannesburg to Havana, from Boyle Heights in Los Angeles to San Francisco’s Mission District, to Treme in New Orleans, to Harlem and the Bronx. Today, more than ever, we see the urgency in connecting our separate struggles.
*We'd like to note that there is no conversation to be had about gentrification and displacement without acknowledging that we are settlers on occupied Lenni-Lenape land.