by Sean Harding
After being closed for months due to the pandemic, Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum reopened to the public last weekend with limited capacity and hours.
“It’s been great having visitors back,” said Jeannette Roden, the Sunday Museum Services Manager. “We definitely have made a lot of adjustments.”
The Wing Luke Museum, founded in 1967 and located on South King Street in Seattle’s International District, has told the deep history and displayed the rich art of Asian Pacific Americans for over four decades. It is the only museum in North America devoted solely to the pan-Asian Pacific American experience. It is also the first Smithsonian affiliate in the Pacific Northwest and is a National Park Service Affiliated Area.
The museum is now open Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reserving tickets online before visiting the museum is highly encouraged. Guided tours are also available twice a day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. with limited capacity (first come, first served).
“Wing Luke Museum serves as a cultural anchor for Asian Pacific American communities in the Pacific Northwest and greater Seattle area,” said public relations representative Max Chan in an email. “While Asian America is sometimes treated as a monolithic community, the reality is that our experiences and circumstances are very diverse. We work extensively with our local communities to ensure that these stories are told in their own voices.”
New exhibits on display include “Community Spread: How We Faced the Pandemic,” featuring community stories of loss, hardship and resilience. Other current exhibits include “Paths Intertwined,” showcasing works from Chinese and Taiwanese artists; “Hear Us Rise” highlights Asian Pacific American women and other marginalized genders; and “Guilty Party” explores racial and gender identity through costumes and storytelling.
The museum also continues to offer virtual programming such as the cook-along “A Dinner Date with History” and their online shop is still open, bringing the Wing Luke Museum to guests. More information about virtual programming can be found online at digitalwingluke.org.
With the museum reopening, visitors are required to wear masks in compliance with state COVID-19 guidelines, and public spaces are cleaned and sanitized regularly. Wayfinding and social distancing signage is found throughout the museum to ensure visitors keep a safe distance.
Exhibits and facilities have been modified to reduce the need to touch items and the use of interactive elements. Doors are propped open where possible, and visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets on the website to reduce physical transactions.
Roden said visitors have been happy they were able to check back into the museum, which opened Friday.
“It’s been positive all weekend,” Roden said.
Current exhibits include a community portrait gallery, representing some of the more than 26 different groups and approximately 67 different languages that make up the Asian Pacific American community in the area.
Other exhibits are dedicated to art, culture, and fashion that community members created to express their different identities and experiences in the U.S. Yet others are devoted to the discrimination Asian Americans have faced, past to present, including exclusion from labor unions, discrimination, real estate covenants, and life under the “model minority myth.”
Another section recognizes Japanese American internment during World War II, including telling the stories of Americans from the Pacific Northwest who were incarcerated in their own country during World War II. Historical exhibits trace the immigration of Asians into the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century.
Unlike other institutions, the Wing Luke Museum does not curate its collection. Instead, they rely on a community-based curation model that engages with the community which allows the museum to reflect the needs, voices, and perspectives of the groups they represent.
The Wing Luke Museum closed its doors in accordance with the State mandate at the beginning of the pandemic.
In the meantime, the team there reimagined many of the exhibits for online formats, including digitizing exhibits and moving some public programs online.
The conditions also forced them to cancel their fundraiser for the first time in the museum’s history. In the fundraiser’s place, the museum launched an online Resilience campaign in March through June. The campaign raised over $500,000, enough to cover what would have been raised by their typical fundraiser.
The museum was able to retain all of its staff and continue paying them despite the pandemic.
“So much of what we do is based around being in our physical space, interacting with the stories … and engaging with the staff,” said marketing manager Shaun Mejia in an email. “I think we have successfully translated a lot of what we offer online. We have also seen more accessibility for folks across the nation with attendees participating from different parts of the country.”
The Wing Luke Museum was named after Wing Chong Luke, the first Asian Pacific Islander American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest. Born near Guangzhou, China, Luke immigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old. For years, Luke ran a laundromat with his father in the University District. He was student president at Roosevelt High School and was drafted into the Army in 1944, earning a Bronze Star Medal and six combat stars. He earned his law degree at the University of Washington and was appointed Assistant Attorney General for Washington State. In 1962, Luke became the first Person of Color on the Seattle City Council.
In 2008, the museum moved to its current location at the old East Kong Yick Building, which was built by Asian American immigrants in 1910 as a community center and apartment complex for themselves.
“We’re happy to have everyone back,” Roden said. “We’re very appreciative of all the folks who are understanding of our safety protocols, especially during this time. We’re trying to keep people safe.”
For more information about the Wing Luke Museum and hours, visit https://www.wingluke.org/.
Sean Harding is a student veteran at the University of Washington double majoring in journalism and geography. Sean served in the active duty Army from 2011 to 2015 as a satellite communications operator and maintainer before switching to the Army Reserve to pursue higher education. He has reported for the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association, as a journalist and photojournalist for UW Recreation, and has also written for the UW Daily. Sean is currently vice president of the UW Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and previously served as president.
Featured Image: Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum opened last weekend with limited capacity and hours. The museum seeks to connect everyone to the rich art and history of Asian Pacific Americans through storytelling and a community-based exhibition process. (Photo by Otto Greule, courtesy of Wing Luke Museum.)
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