Wing Luke Museum gets new digs

In its ongoing efforts to raise $24.7 million to rehabilitate the East Kong Yick Building in the International District of Seattle, the Wing Luke Asian Museum has recently received some welcome support from two area elementary schools, developing a partnership that in many ways symbolizes the core reason for the museum's growth in recent years.

The classes that contributed their time and efforts towards the future home of the only pan-Asian Pacific American museum in the country were Libby Sinclair's fifth grade class from Alternative Elementary II of the Seattle Public School District, and Sandra Kim's third grade class of Wing Luke Elementary. Respectively, they created water colors of the building as well as a comprehensive anthology of Seattle's Asian-American community filled with oral histories and original poems and narratives about the building, and the people who have lived and resided there over the years.

"We are hoping that it's an ongoing partnership, and I'm confident that it will be," said Wing Luke Capital Campaign Manager, Joy Shigaki "It's about building relationships, which is really the core value of the museum. How do you bring in more people to be able to continue to tell the story?"

The project to rehabilitate the building, which is located on the corner of King Street and Eighth Avenue South, actually commenced over five years ago when staff began considerations for an expansion from the current 15,000-square-foot location. Following several years of study they settled upon the 45,000 square foot East Kong Yick building. The building was originally a single room occupancy hotel built in 1910 by Asian laborers: men who butchered fish in the salmon canneries of Bellingham and Alaska and picked crops in the fields of California and eastern Washington.

"Today there are probably thousands of small shareholders who have decision making power around decisions regarding the Kong Yick building,"said Shigaki regarding the building's owners: the Kong Yick Investment Company. "It took a process of presenting the idea of the sale and getting full agreement from all the shareholders, and it was unanimous."

The capital phase of the campaign will be completed in November 2006 and doors will open in 2007. The endowment phase of the campaign, kicked off by a multi-cultural blessing of the building in September of this year, will build a $1.7 million seed fund that should secure the museum for many years to come.

So far there has been $14.1 million dollars raised towards the $23 million goal specified for the capital campaign portion of the fund raising efforts. Shigaki termed the campaign ahead of its required pace, and attributed a great deal of its success to spontaneous community support such as that contributed by the schools.

"We have a lot of community meetings and community input on what we do," said Wing Luke Public Program Coordinator Vivian Chan. "Even our architect meetings are the same."

Sinclair originally heard about the campaign in a newsletter distributed by the museum and decided it would be a great way to teach her class about the racial diversity and history found in the Seattle area.

"Where I teach, our particular school doesn't have that many Asian children and I think it's a really important history," said Sinclair. "Kids who didn't have much familiarity with the area now feel very connected with the history of the area. We really did a lot of work on why people were coming here and what they were coming from. We've looked at Chinese art, history, calligraphy, paintings. I tried to expose them to as much of the cultural things as I could."

Sinclair photographed the perimeter of the building using a digital camera, and divided it into 28 sections. Her class then learned how to do color enlargements and painted watercolors of the various photographs.

"In a way it's a picture of the past as well as the present," Sinclair added.

Kim's third graders, a predominately Asian-American group of children, were initially apprehensive about their project. Many assumed Wing Luke was the name of their school's mascot, a dragon, according to Chan.

This changed.

"It was amazing. It would bring tears to your eyes," Kim said. "Through this curriculum that was developed we actually made a partnership with Kawabe House, which is a (Asian) retirement community, interviewed folks in the International District and folks who had businesses, older folks. My kids are very ethnically diverse, and meeting these people with similar backgrounds really brought out confidence. They initially refused to speak in Chinese. All the sudden they were speaking in Chinese and I was teaching them how to write in Chinese. It was phenomenal."

Through field trips, book making, poetry lessons and photography lessons the class created a 72-page book, professionally designed and edited, and bound by the students. Each student wrote 10-12 poems, and selected their top two favorite poems. Copies were distributed to libraries, schools, community organizations and the museum's staff. Two of Kim's students were even finalists for a classroom award, and were taken to Washington DC.

The two classes don't see the partnership with the museum as a one-time event either. They foresee a long-term partnership and continued growth.

"Community learning and including community members in education has a completely profound impact on students and we are going to maintain that" said Kim. "I'm hoping to bring my kids who are in third grade now back when they're in fifth grade and the building is done."

As the school year closes out, the two classes scheduled a meeting in late June to meet one another, and share their respective projects.

Chris Butterfield may be reached through[[In-content Ad]]