In 2010, the United States Census counted around 3.4 million Filipino-Americans nationwide—the largest Filipino population outside the Philippines and the second largest Asian-American population behind Chinese-Americans. Given that at least 17,500 museums currently exist in the United States, according to the American Alliance of Museums, the conspicuous absence of a museum engaging the interests of a such a large demographic makes the recent launch of the Filipino American Museum (FAM) all the more significant.
With the generous support of an anonymous donor, FAM, despite having yet to find a permanent home, has begun planning its short-term programming. Among other projects, the museum will produce a “web channel” delivering focused content to members of the Filipino community across the country and abroad. According to one of its founders, Nancy A. Bulalacao-Leung, the organization has set its sights on Manhattan—an area that, though central to New York’s cultural life, is at a slight remove from the larger Filipino-American community which resides in Queens—as its future location. In the meantime, programs will be hosted by select cultural institutions across the city. The annual day-long “Gathering the Grassroots” event celebrating New York’s foremost Asian and Pacific Islander-American grassroots organizations will take place in December at the Queens Museum of Art.
With its eclectic programming, FAM intends to examine the intersection between “contemporary Filipino-American arts and the roots and traditions of the Philippine diaspora.” Initially conceived while Bulalacao-Leung was working at the Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA), among FAM’s founding committee members are MoCA affiliates—Herb Tam, MoCA’s curator, and Ryan Wong, formerly assistant curator—as well as actor Ken Leung, Yng-Ru Chen from MoMA PS1 and Mary Ping of the conceptual fashion label Slow and Steady Wins The Race. With the collective experience of these individuals, FAM hopes to serve as an interface between multiple generations of the Filipino-American community as well as to reach a broader audience.
On October 29, the museum staged its inaugural event at SoHo’s Third Streaming with a live performance by artist Stephen Decker. In a crowded room above a deserted Greene Street, Decker’s one-off sound and light performance-cum-installation piece, Salvaging the Aether (2013), wound its way between hundreds of guests with a delicate network of appropriated objects—from desk lamps clipped onto cinderblocks to an apparently defunct amplifier laying casually on the floor. Elsewhere, Decker tinkered with baoding balls and triangles vibrating off a subwoofer while a disco ball motor cantilevered a set of windchimes. These, along with a shortwave radio, formed the background noise to the animated chatter emanating from all parts of the room. Situated below eye level, Salvaging the Aether presented, in sum, a perfectly congruent piece to usher in an institution that values art as community-forming rather than an ideal to which communities should aspire.