Monday, June 2, 2008

news and photos: Wing Luke Asian Museum

On Sunday morning, I trekked into Seattle's International District to report on the latter half of the Wing Luke Asian Museum's two-day grand opening extravaganza. Despite the fact that I was (literally) temporarily deafened by the traditional firecrackers that scared the living hell out of me, I really enjoyed the performances outside and the museum itself. This was definitely an experiment in my courage as a photographer; I didn't want to interfere with a culturally important ceremony, but I also couldn't get a shot from the middle of the crowd, so I hopped the rope and perched against the building literally right in front of the dance. The shots that resulted from that move were exactly what I wanted. Below are four of my favorites, in addition to the story I wrote from an amazing noodle restaurant about three blocks away.

The Wing Luke Asian Museum will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and free for kids under 5. Admission is free on the first Thursday and third Saturday of each month. For more information, visit

ABOVE: A young boy performs a routine with a traditional spear outside the Wing Luke Asian Museum. His routine, along with others, was part of the second day of festivities celebrating the museum's grand reopening.

ABOVE: Four performers dance during a ceremonial Lion and Dragon performance outside the Wing Luke Asian Museum on June 1. Each lion is made up of two people, with one in the head and one in the rear.

ABOVE: A woman dances outside the Wing Luke Asian Museum during its grand opening festivities as a part of the Lion and Dragon Dance performance.

ABOVE: A young girl pets a performer in traditional Chinese Lion costume. Many children were present and the ceremonial dance, and some continued on to the many children's areas inside the museum.

Wing Luke Asian Museum reopens to community's delight

Amid the deafening roar of fireworks, a cheer rang out from the crowd. The Wing Luke Asian Museum was perfectly situated into its new International District home.

On Saturday morning, the first day of the grand opening weekend celebration, supporters filled the block in front of the new 719 S. King St. to hear speeches from local politicians and to see a multicultural drumming performance. The next morning, a similar crowd turned out for a lion and dragon dance performance. As soon as the performances were finished, onlookers crowded to the entrance to catch a glimpse inside.

Joann Natalia Aquino, the museum’s public relations manager, was excited both about the museum’s expansion and the public’s support.

“The community has welcomed the museum with open arms,” she said. “We’re very glad to open and glad that the community has embraced us.”

The museum features peaceful lightwells, children’s areas, historic immersion exhibits, the Tateuchi Story Theater and the unique “George Tsutakawa: The Making of a Fountain” exhibition displaying fountains, paintings and sculptures of the Seattle artist.
The museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate, is the only Pan-Asian Pacific-American museum in the U.S. It focuses on three dimensions: contemporary space, historic space and a portal to Chinatown discovery.

Wing Luke was Seattle's first Asian city councilman. Elected in 1962, he served three years before dying in a plane crash after leaving an Okanogan County airport on May 16, 1965. A search, paid for by contributions from friends and supporters, found the plane over three years later in the Cascade Mountains.

Money left over from the search effort was used to start the original Wing Luke Museum, which quickly outgrew its 10,000 square foot original residence. The new location, in the old East Kong Yick Building, is about six times that size.

Originally a boarding house full of small rooms, the East Kong Yick building was often a first stop for those who had nowhere else to go when they arrived in Seattle. It has been mostly uninhabited for years, but after a five-year campaign by the Wing Luke Asian Museum that raised $23.2 million that’s no longer the case.

Architect Rick Sundberg made it a goal to save as much of the building as he could rather than gutting it, and in doing so saved the storytelling ability of the building. Century-old timber, refurbished and repurposed, lines the museum’s walls. Suddenly, the building became a source of pride for the community, combining past with future.

UW student Mitchell Fung, along with about ten of his fellow Zeta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members, helped with event staff to direct guests at the grand opening.

“We’re an Asian-interest fraternity, but for some of our members this is brand new,” Fung said. “This gives us a chance to learn about our culture and do what we can to help the community.