Keystone Initiative: Will Smithsonian finally have a permanent Asian American exhibition?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—We’re officially two-thirds of the way through 2019’s iteration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which takes place every May. The fifth month of each year was selected to recognize the contributions of Asian Americans to the United States in honor of the first Japanese who arrived in the world’s most populous non-Asian country. Those Japanese immigrants came to the United States on May 7, 1843. Asian Americans, accordingly, have spent the past 166 years planting roots in the United States. The diverse groups of people who are categorized as Asian Americans have penetrated every industry conceivable, including the arts. The nation’s largest museum, however, does not have a permanent installation or gallery dedicated to Asian Americans arts and culture.

         The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is working to finally make such a permanent gallery a reality, as the institution’s Keystone Initiative launched a fundraising effort on May 18 in hopes of bringing the proposed venue online. The fundraising launch was held at City Market Social House in Downtown Los Angeles, with some of the biggest names within the Asian American community reportedly attending.

         One of the most notable features of the May 18 fundraiser event for the Keystone Initiative was the donation of a dress actor Constance Wu wore during a wedding scene in Crazy Rich Asians. The fundraiser also featured performances by Katherine Ho, Qiang and Danhong Li (members of Cirque de Soleil’s KA), folk pop sensation Andy Suzuki & The Method, Hiroshima and hip hop phenom Jay Park.

         The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center describes itself as “a migratory museum that brings history, art and culture to you through innovative community-focused experiences. Leadership within the center have been on the record stating they have to regularly ask others to lend venue space for such community-focused experiences, as the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center does not have a permanent home.

“We are not a traditional museum with a public building,” the center’s website states.

         The center was established in 1997. More than 17 million people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent live in the United States, according to The Hype Magazine– and the Asian American population is expected to grow even more within the next 50 years. The juxtaposition of deep – and often unrecognized – history of Asian Americans within the United States and projected population growth legitimizes the need for a permanent gallery for representatives of the 50-some countries at the Smithsonian Institute.

         Asia is made up of at least five regions: East (Japan, China, Koreas, etc.); Southeast (Vietnam, Thailand, The Philippines, etc.); South (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, etc.); Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.); and, Central (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, etc.).

         Contact the center at 202-633-2691 or APAC@si.edu for more information about the Keystone Initiative, including ways to contribute to the institute’s first-ever permanent gallery for Asian Americans.