This fall, three award-winning Lao American writers hope to tour across the Midwest.
On Mother’s Day, they just launched a fundraising campaign on the crowd-funding website kickstarter.com to raise $5,200 by July 7th to cover their travel and printing costs, and to bring Lao American poetry, spoken word and visual art to five states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.
“There’s over 30,000 Lao who live in the Midwest,” said Catzie Vilayphonh, one of the organizers of the tour. “But many have never had a chance to hear and see what Lao artists have been creating over the last 36 years. We want to change that.”
Vilayphonh is a member of the spoken word duo, Yellow Rage, who made history as the first Asian American act on Russel Simmons Def Poetry Jam. A resident of Philadelphia, she teaches at the acclaimed Asian Arts Initiative in Pennsylvania and has performed across the country, sharing the stage with acts such as Refugee Nation, Sarah Jones, Beau Sia and I Was Born with Two Tongues.
She was a chair of the national Lao American Writers Summit in 2010 in Minneapolis, which gathered over 125 people together from across the country to discuss the future of Lao literature, art and community building efforts. Many were meeting for the first time in 35 years since the end of the war for Laos in 1975.
This year’s tour will feature Vilayphonh and Minnesota writers Saymoukda Vongsay and Bryan Thao Worra. Many Lao came to the US as refugees of the war for Laos that ended in 1975, displacing over 400,000 people. “What we’re asking for is about $3 a mile to support us on the road,” said Vilayphonh.
In each state they will show communities photos, paintings and stories from across the country and help identify emerging Lao artists. The shows and one-day workshops will be free to the public, but they need the community’s help to make it happen.
“Some have never seen the art of Lao American visual artists like Mali Kouanchao or Vongduane Manivong in person, or the Legacies of War exhibit,” said Bryan Thao Worra, the first Laotian American to receive a Fellowship in Literature from the National Endowment for the Arts. “We hope to connect community members across the Midwest with Lao arts organizations and opportunities and to see the great role the arts play in people’s lifelong success and happiness.”
A Minneapolis resident, Thao Worra was a lead organizer of a three-week exhibit at Intermedia Arts called Legacies of War: Refugee Nation in the Twin Cities that drew almost 2,000 people throughout its run, including international guests from Mexico, Canada and Sweden. He recently received an Artist Initiative Award from the Minnesota State Arts Board to continue his work.
Crowdfunding is an approach to funding projects through collective cooperation by people networking and pooling their money and other resources together.
“This is the very first project by Lao American artists to ever go through Kickstarter.com,” said Saymoukda Vongsay, a resident of Saint Paul.
In 2010, Vongsay was the inaugural recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Award in Spoken Word, and she has performed in Italy, Japan, and across the US including Alaska, New York, Boston and Washington D.C. She is currently working on a new book she hopes to release later this year.
People can become sponsors for as little as a dollar, but the trio are also offering unique incentives for sponsors who contribute at different levels, from books and t-shirts to Lao coffee and exclusive live performances in someone’s home or business.
For more information visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1064450543/laos-in-the-house-midwest.