A museum in New York City’s Chinatown that recently reopened after its archives were damaged by a fire last year is now facing more heat as protestors gather to boycott the institution.
The protest: The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) reopened on Wednesday, since shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to a crowd of protestors accusing the institution of supporting mass incarceration and gentrification, reported Hyperallergenic.
- The museum allegedly accepted a $35 million concession included in a “community give-back” program as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to shut down Rikers Island and build four smaller detention centers throughout the city in its place. One of which would be at Chinatown’s 125 White Street.
- MOCA co-chair Jonathan Chu, a real estate developer who owns several buildings in Chinatown, was also criticized for contributing to the gentrification of the area.
- Protestors claimed that Chu and his family evicted Jing Fong, a beloved restaurant that hundreds rallied to save upon news of its closure as the business was also affected by the pandemic.
Artists partake in the movement: In October 2020, the Chinatown Art Brigade, an Asian American and Asian diasporic artist-activist group, sent an open letter to the museum outlining its grievances.
- The group demanded that MOCA reject the jail plan, including any “give-back” offers, and remove Jonathan Chu from MOCA’s Board.
- They also pushed for the “abolition of prisons and policing,” which they noted was vital to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Other groups have expressed disapproval of MOCA’s actions over the past year, including 19 members from Godzilla, an artist collective and network, who announced their withdrawal from an exhibition in March. The exhibition then had to be canceled.
- In a letter sent on July 12, artists Colin Chin and Nicholas Liem requested to have their photo series, “Documenting Persistence In Oakland’s Chinatown,” withdrawn from an exhibition.
- It read: “We believe MOCA’s complicity with mass incarceration — which disproportionately affects Black and Latinx people — and the gentrification of Chinatown undermines its aforementioned purpose. It is contrary to the expressions of solidarity between the Asian American and Black communities against police violence and gentrification highlighted in our work.”
MOCA responds: The museum’s president, Nancy Yao Maasbach, said that the issues brought up by the protestors are “completely unrelated to the museum or its mission,” according to CBS NY.
- “The mayor had an agenda with Rikers Island and the borough-based jails. We have no information or knowledge about mass incarceration or criminal reform. We’re a social history museum about Chinese Americans. So for them to conflate the two together — it’s unfair,” she said, according to Gothamist.
- She told Gothamist that the museum hasn’t “received any other capital funding from the city” and without the monetary support, the museum won’t survive.
- Though Maasbach said they “value voice in protest,” she said that the protest was “based on false information and conflating different issues.”
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