The WingSeattle, WA
The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, is developing a year-round cultural model for sustainable neighborhood revitalization, using arts and culture as a way to attract people to the neighborhood. In one of Seattle’s poorest areas, The Wing is attempting to drive economic development for district businesses and build positive associations with the neighborhood through a combination of tested and experimental programming.
Jackson Street is a block north of The Wing, and a quick stroll west on Jackson takes you to Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japantown). A once thriving neighborhood, Nihonmachi was almost completely devastated by the World War II Japanese American incarceration, and the area has struggled ever since. How can a museum’s work intersect with community efforts to revitalize Nihonmachi today? The Wing is not a real estate developer or a property manager, but staff can work with community members to tell their important stories, and inspire and bring a human face to critical economic development.
Nihonmachi has attracted some attention in recent weeks. A front page article on the November 26th edition of The Seattle Times profiled The Wing’s newest exhibition, Meet Me at Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family.
Meet Me at Higo offers a very personal exploration of one family, one business and one neighborhood, and it also speaks to much larger events and shared experiences. The exhibition tells the story of the Murakami family, who opened Higo 10 Cents Store (later renamed Higo Variety Store) on Jackson Street in 1909. Photographs, objects, business records and letters collected and kept over many years chronicle life events and the period during World War II when the Murakami family and thousands more West Coast Japanese were placed in incarceration camps. Following World War II, Higo was one of the few businesses able to reopen in Nihonmachi and to continue as a center for the now dispersed Japanese American population in Seattle.
The Wing’s exhibition honors a legacy while also looking to more recent times, as the Higo Variety Store has been repurposed as KOBO at Higo www.koboseattle.com, an artisan gallery that has incorporated materials from the original Higo Store into a contemporary retail space. With an exhibition created over a year of meetings with Nihonmachi property and business owners, residents and Japanese American community participants, Wing staffers first expected an intimate opening reception with a few dozen folks. But after the collective journey to create an exhibition and book, Nihonmachi and its friends turned out: On December 1st a standing-room-only crowd impelled them to open the larger Community Hall for the Meet Me at Higo opening reception, and an emotional celebration ensued, including poetry, tears and personal memories and wishes for the future. Our goal is that our onsite exhibition will encourage visitors to explore Nihonmachi and its current businesses, KOBO among them. The connection between sites will be strengthened in the near future; in 2012 KOBO will host a satellite version of the Meet Me at Higo exhibition and related programs.