Sunday, December 13, 2015

'Sunrise' and 'Time Tunnel' at the Chinese Culture Foundation

Last Thursday’s (December 10. SF Examiner) discovery of old sewing machines in Chinatown and the current exhibit in Stanford ("The Chinese and the Transcontinental Railroad") remind us of how important Chinese labor has been to building the United States. This has often meant that the Chinese have, in the past, been marginalized and denigrated.

The Chinese Culture Foundation’s current project, “Sunshine,” takes the idea of Chinatown as a source of cheap labor and junky souvenirs and brings that old stereotype into the light of the 21st century. The Chinese, both in the Chinese diaspora and in the United States, are now a vibrant and innovative part of contemporary life, especially the life of San Francisco.

“Sunrise” is a project which takes the mundane pedestrian bridge from the Chinatown Hilton to Washington Square and elevates it to a vision for Chinatown’s future. According to Mabel Teng, executive director of the Chinese Culture Foundation, the bridge was built as a compromise for the 27-story hotel tower blocking sunlight to the square known by many as Chinatown’s living room.

That utilitarian purpose will be a thing of the past if the Foundation’s plans for a mini park and art installation go through. The plans have been in process for over a year, from the initial idea generated by the staff at a retreat to the current and more ambitions vision of a Chinatown full of art for all to enjoy.  According to Teng, this project is only one of many designed to bring Chinatown to the center of San Francisco’s life  - in ideas, if not in geographical reality. The current Central subway project, due to be completed in 2019,  will also make Chinatown more accessible to the rest of San Francisco as well as make San Francisco more accessible to the Chinese who tend to be locked into this densely packed part of the city because of overcrowded and slow public transportation.

Designed by competitively-selected artist Mik Gaspay, the layout features a mosaic of a sunrise around the flight of stairs to the center, as well as native California plants and benches intended to make the bridge a more inviting open space. Mik Gaspay is a San Francisco based interdisciplinary artist who works primarily in found objects, painting, and sculpture and is interested in translating the meanings of commonplace products and structures.

Since the beginning of 2015, the hub has been in the planning stages, with rigorous rounds of judging from a panel composed of community, business, and art leaders on various proposed design components of the pedestrian bridge.

Public viewing next week for commentary and input:

The project has already gone through San Francisco city hall’s complex – and not always friendly – building process. It took amazing patience and perseverance for the Center to get the permits through the various bureaucratic roadblocks but they succeed and look forward to the bridge becoming a reality in 2017.  When the bridge is revamped, Hilton staff will manage it nd shut the gate between it and Portsmouth Square at 7 p.m. daily.

The project doesn’t yet have a total cost estimate, but will be funded 20 percent by the Chinese Culture Center, 30 percent by the Hilton hotel, and 50 percent through city funds. It is expected to be completed in May 2017 and remain a fixture on the bridge for at least five years.

Teng said, “We hope that this is a model project that can be a lesson for other communities and we definitely hope to inspire The City to make that kind of commitment to all the neighborhoods – especially the low-income neighborhoods.”
“Time Tunnel” is currently on view inside the museum. A time line of the last 50 years of the Center, the exhibit celebrates both the educational and visual accomplishments of this small space – small in size but large in vision and achievements.

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