Chinatown Community Think Tank – Engaging Chinese Speaking Communities Part 2

This week we are publishing the second part of a guest post by Alvis Choi (aka Alvis Parsley), an artist with a social practice based in Toronto.  You can find Part 1 here. Alvis is sharing reflections about a recent project they initiated, Chinatown Community Think Tank. 

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Exterior, Chinatown Community Think Tank, Photo Credit Jessica Baldanza.

I am currently working on a publication where I will elaborate on my experience of the project, share reflections, resources and future plans. For now, I would like to throw in a couple thoughts-in-progress and questions about ways of engaging Chinese speaking communities, as drawn from this two-month experience with Chinatown Community Think Tank and a previous project I also did at Whippersnapper Gallery.

  1. Who has time for art? We have to acknowledge that in our current society art is very often still a privilege. With people who are convinced that they don’t have time for art, identifying issues that the group is concerned with can help engage them in conversations.

  2. Why are people intimated by art? How do we engage those who have little knowledge of or interest in art? Social practice brings positive impact through blurring the boundaries of art and the everyday. How do we as social artists build relationships between institutions and local communities?

  3. What makes ethnic communities, who are also minority groups in a city, feel welcome in an art space?

  4. How can we create safe spaces for a community, while keeping in mind unique cultural contexts? For instance at Chinatown Community Think Tank, why did it seem more difficult to invite Chinese people into the gallery when most of the materials in the window were in Chinese, whilst Caucasians entered the gallery freely and comfortably even without any invitation? This has to do with systemic oppression and privilege in many ways, as well as how Chinese culture plays out in our everyday life. Our education system in Hong Kong, for example, has been focusing on learning by rote, until very recently. Our culture measures very high on the “collectivism” scale compared to most western cultures. I was educated in a top-down structure and was not encouraged to develop critical thinking skills. So, besides setting up a platform and safe space, how do we articulate ideas and opinions in the community, and make use of facilitation skills to encourage the expression of creative thinking?


Detail. Photo Credit Jessica Baldanza.

I will continue to research neighborhood engagement in Chinatown in the context of art. I am interested in looking at examples of this not only in Toronto, but also in other cities in North America, and I would be excited to hear your thoughts on this topic.  It is important for artists and art institutions to be conscious, responsible and critical of how they take up space in different ethnic neighborhoods. I believe arts and cultural spaces need to address their intention internally before they can truly connect with their local communities. We need to look into the history of a culture before we can make contemporary art accessible to wider communities and create sustainable impact.

Since March 2013, Whippersnapper Gallery has committed to translating its exhibition introduction text in their window display into Chinese language for better access.


In conversation. Photo Credit Jessica Baldanza.

To receive news about the publication of Chinatown Community Think Tank, which would come out in early 2014, like the project’s facebook page, or email me at

Alvis Choi (aka Alvis Parsley) is an artist, curator, and researcher based in Toronto. Alvis served as Assistant Manager at Videotage (Hong Kong) from 2009 to 2011. They are currently on the Programming Committee of Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival and the Working Collective of Whippersnapper Gallery. Alvis’ work was presented internationally at festivals and art spaces, including SummerWorks Festival (Toronto), Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, HTMLLES10 Festival (Montreal), 12th Seoul International New Media Festival, Chapter Arts Centre (Cardiff), and Studio10 (NYC). Alvis is a member of SYNAPSE – The International Curators’ Network at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), a finalist of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s TELUS Newcomer Artist Award, and a recipient of Neighbourhood Arts Network’s BMO Seeds Fund, Vtape’s Curatorial Incubator Program Fellowship and British Council’s Travel Grant.

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