Activating Audiences Through Arts and Culture in Chinatown

A summary of my report for my talk at the 2016 Edmonton Chinatown Conference.

My session topic – Tools for the Future: Activating Chinatowns through arts and culture – how cultural spaces can attract and engage new and diverse audiences to Chinatown.


My grandmother lived in the Chinese Elders Mansion in Chinatown Edmonton, on the same block includes a multi-cultural centre, library and grocery store on the same block. The infrustructure built is key to long term residence growth and living standards.

Having a mix of residents, businesses and organizations makes for a diverse neighbourhood and further enriching the neighborhood. These are just some notes on my findings about activating new audiences in Chinatown through arts and culture.

  1. LEVELS OF ENGAGEMENT: 
    In 2015, the City of Vancouver funds 8 arts organizations at approx. $224K into operating and project grants to organizations based in Chinatown. This might seem significant but it is not. Just because an organization, shop or business is situated in Chinatown. They arent’ necessarily meeting the needs of that direct community, they could be serving a new audience; new to the area and vice versa, an organization NOT in Chinatown could be coming in and building engaging, accessible programming for all residents.
    a) OCCUPY SPACE
    An organization can be occupying space, and not necessarily assisting with the community. A publication shop could be next to a benevolent society but not able to print and/or make publications for that group.
    b) DIRECT CONTACT
    Centre A directly builds programming for local Chinese residents and the community by just “opening the door”, having Chinese signage and collaborating with local artists to build programming directly involving neighbours, they are engaging with a community that wouldn’t necessarily walk into an art gallery.
    b) BEYOND THE COMMUNITY
    There are many organizations that are not residing in Chinatown but build engaging programming for that specific community. Contemporary Art Gallery facilitates an artist residency program, bringing an artist to engage in discourse around food politics in Chinatown and downtown east side.
  2. MICRO COMMUNITIES
    Arts and culture brings in artists, curators, small organizations and more. They build micro-communities within spaces. For example, 221A is home to approximately 50 artists and 4 organizations within 3 buildings a few blocks away from each other. Project Space is in U/P and holds VABF with approx 3000 attendees each year.
  3. INFRASTRUCTURE – Long term leases are vital to build a sustainable future. Either with the help of very friendly landlords, benevolent societies that have long term lease, low tax rates or city support such as community amenity spaces and/or “arts zoning”. Unit/Pitt and 221A have 10-15 year leases and are able to facilitate long term community building.

You can view the presentation on Instagram @chinatown_arts

Instagram was used as a tool to deliver this presentation because it is intended to keep the dialogue alive after the 15 minute presentation to a small group of 50 people on a Saturday afternoon. New technology must be used to engage audiences both offline and online for academic and awesome purposes.

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