ST. PAUL — On Sept. 29th and 30th, 2012, Asian Media Access collaborated with its partners – Multimedia Artist Nicholas Clausen and Iny Asian Dance Theater to stage a very successful show – “Relight Victoria” affront of the vacant Victoria Theater at 825 University Avenue West in St. Paul.
This unique “Place Art” project aims to promote for policy change that will strategically tie together arts, economic development, neighborhood safety and physical exercises. As part of the Irrigate Initiative along the Central Corridor, the Victoria Theater was “lighted up” one more time to bring attention to the vacant theater.
The show started at dusk with a video projection of the Iny Asian Dance Theater performing traditional Hmong and Chinese dances, along with live performers flanking each side. The projection used the theater’s front windows that made a perfect screen for viewing.
On either side of the projection, boys and girls from Iny’s Asian Dance Theater performed the same dance that was projected on the Theater windows. The Artistic Director, Iny Xiong of the Iny Asian Dance Theater puts it “The “Light the Victoria” event is 2 folds – on one hand – reclaiming University Ave as an important part of Asian business district, and on the other hand – taking the opportunity to support cross-cultural understanding with boarder community about Asian Arts and Cultures.”
Neighbors along the University Avenue came out to enjoy a beautiful night along with a great outdoor performance. More than 100 guests stood across the street or at the work-in-progress light rail station to watch this unique visual combination, along with the car lights as they passed by, adding more colors and sounds.
It truly amazed every audience on the scene. Their non-stop cheers and loud claps supported the dancers to jump and flip even higher on the sidewalk. As one audience puts it, “You Would Only Hope The Show Would Never End!”
The Project was a unique collaboration between multiple sectors, and the neighborhood’s effort to reclaim the street.
Theater owners Bee and Lamena Vue said, “We want to support an arts project that reflects the diverse culture along the University Avenue, and improves foot traffic attracting more people to the Midway neighborhood, along with investment to restore the Victoria Theater.”
The Victoria Theater opened in 1915 as a family theater. It later turned into the Victoria Cafe where gangsters gathered during the Prohibition. In 1937, the theater was renovated and turned into the Edison Lighting shop.
It has sat vacant since the late 1990’s. In 2009 community groups successfully organized to get a historic designation for the theater. There is hope that the theater can be rehabilitated to show performances. But the high crime rate in the Midway neighborhood has completely erased the area’s foot traffic. The theater has not been able to open since.
The “Relight Victoria” project intends to bring more neighbors out to the streets, to appreciate such unique live show, to create a sense of safety to interact, and exercise along the neighborhoods.
“Such “PLACE ART” as a public art form is an arts creation associated with a specific place and time, said AMA Executive Director Ange Hwang. “Our Creative Team believes that art, culture and creativity expressed powerfully through place can create vibrant communities, safer neighborhoods, thus increasing the desire and the economic opportunity for people to thrive in place.”
Besides in using arts to rejuvenate the neighborhood and improve safety, the project has another layer to encourage physical exercises (such as dance) among Asian American and Pacific Islanders youth. In the past 30 years, children who are overweight in the United States tripled to 15 percent.
Today, America is proven to be at its peak of the obesity epidemic. AAPI youth are no exception, with three times of the AAPI children being overweight from the 1980s. Often childhood obesity is addressed as a public health issue, but it also is a cultural issue.
Youth are affected by their cultures and it shapes their life-styles and the food they eat. However, less emphasis is put on adapting different cultural models and values when promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Exercise. Youth should see childhood obesity as not just a problem of food system, or of low-income families, but that is a culturally related problem.
To respond to such problem, Asian Media Access teams up with Iny Asian Dance Theater to promote a Bi-cultural Healthy Living concept targeting low-income AAPI youth with free Asian dance, acrobatics, and martial arts classes in the poorest North Minneapolis and Midway St. Paul neighborhoods.
The strategy is simple, said Hwang, who places an emphasis on cultural pride and parents involvement as motivations for youth to exercise more.
“By wearing beautiful traditional Asian costumes, listening to traditional music, stepping into ancient footsteps, it gives youth a sense of self-esteem and cultural identity other sports can not offer, along with strong parents’ support in preserving the cultural traditions,” she said.
The success of the “Relight Victoria” project has proven such strategy can be effective. Overall, our unique “PLACE ART” project – “Relight Victoria” sheds the lights on economic development for the neighborhood, supports AAPIs to come out from the isolation, and encourages our youth to respect the traditional culture their parents held on, and rediscover the beauty of Asian Dances and Martial Arts.
This project is sponsored in part by the Office of Minority Health, MN Department of Education, and MN State Arts Board, through the arts and cultural heritage fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on Nov. 4, 2008.