By Chris S. Nishiwaki
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Social justice advocate and nonprofit executive Joël Barraquiel Tan has been hired as the new executive director of the Wing Luke Museum, capping a yearlong national search led by Wing Luke board of directors co-presidents Ellen Ferguson and Jill Nishi, who also co-chaired the search committee. The job was promoted with a salary range of $155,000 to $180,000.
Barraquiel Tan becomes the first queer director, first foreign-born, and first director of Filipino descent to lead the museum in its 54-year history. Barraquiel Tan, who will be moving from Hawaii, will attend the Wing Luke’s gala on March 13 at the Sheraton Grand Seattle. His first day on the job will be April 15.
“Why would I want to leave one of the most beautiful places on the planet for this job?” Barraquiel Tan asked rhetorically before answering his own question.
“I was responding to The Wing as if it was the ‘Bat-Signal,’” referring to the searchlight call for help made popular by the adventure comic Batman. “To me, this opportunity comes in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of API hate. It is about ‘what are you going to do in this moment?’ If you are going to look at the opportunity at The Wing as a bat signal. That is the anchor. The cultural capital, the social capital (of the Wing Luke) is the Batmobile. What is going to happen in the next year, it is going to take strong institutions like The Wing to get through this.”
Barraquiel Tan replaces Beth Takekawa, who retired after 14 years as executive director and 24 years in the organization altogether. Takekawa was promoted to the top job after Ron Chew left the museum in 2007.
“Neither Ron nor Beth came from the museum field and they brought their unique perspectives,” said Ferguson.
“During this search, we were looking for someone with a lot of creativity and intersectional skills and personality.
Joël stood out as the right candidate, the right human for this time. We are just thrilled. He is a person who can connect with so many communities in so many ways. He’s a community guy in so many ways. He does it in holistic ways. And frankly, we need a lot of healing these days. And, his art and his creativity, they are in his DNA.
“Joël has an ebullient personality. His positive attitude will be valuable as we open up to the public.”
While the fictitious Batman is a member of the Justice League, Barraquiel Tan is grounded in social justice. With extensive experience in social justice, storytelling, diversity, equity and inclusion, public health, and the arts, Barroquiel Tan will lead the 40-person team and $3 million-plus institution headquartered in the East Kong Yick Building in the Chinatown-International District.
Deputy Director Cassie Chin, who served as interim executive director during the search, will return to her original job.
“She’s a different kind of leader. I also know good work when I see it,” an enthusiastic Barraquiel Tan said in endorsing Chin. “To me, how thoughtful (Chin) is in setting an agenda and goes about executing it is important.”
Ferguson also points to COO Gary Yamamoto as a critical executive who will be acclimating Barraquiel Tan to the Wing Luke community and the region at-large.
Barraquiel Tan moved to Hawaii in 2015, where he was the executive director of the East Hawaii Contemporary Arts Center and the Kalanihonua Retreat Center. His latest post was as Director of Social Impact and Programs at Touching the Earth.
In 2018, he helped establish Vibrant Hawai’i, a collective impact network of leadership across diverse sectors working at the systemic level to eliminate Hawai’i Island’s 55% poverty rate.
But it was his experience at the seminal Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco that stood out to Ferguson, Nishi, and the rest of the search committee. Barraquiel Tan served as the Director of Community Engagement at YBCA for 11 years. He created and implemented YBCA’s award-winning civic engagement Diversity Equity and Inclusion, modeled after the Wing Luke Museum’s community arts curatorial program developed by Chew.
Barraquiel Tan earned a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from Antioch University. He is currently completing a Master of Family Therapy degree at Northcentral University.
Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.