By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The normalcy of life has been disrupted by COVID-19, and simple things like going out to eat, attending a movie, or enjoying the museum have been put on pause with no end date. However, organizations like the Wing Luke Museum have embraced the challenges of pivoting during the pandemic. State mandates requiring the closure of museums forced the Wing Luke to engage with more online content.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, museums have communicated with each other, offering advice as to when and how to properly return, as well as discussing options on keeping its patrons engaged, explained Wing Luke Museum Board Co-President Ellen Ferguson. As with other museums across the nation, the Wing Luke pivoted to an online digital format to engage with its members.
The digital site offers different programming, including virtual tours and exhibits, and also a deep dive on its past collections.
The virtual tour of the Wing Luke offers the ability to see the museum and its collections currently inside. It also offers a historical perspective of the neighborhood through an interactive map of the International District. Clicking on a part of the neighborhood map brings the viewer a chance to see historical information about the Nippon Kan Theatre, Little Saigon, Hing Hay Park, and even a YouTube video of the late “Uncle” Bob Santos singing karaoke at Bush Garden.
“Rather than a lovely option, it has become an essential resource,” said Ferguson of the digital content.
In addition to its online visibility, the Wing Luke partnered with CIDBIA to do a “C-ID Takeout Bingo” to encourage people to support neighboring restaurants while adhering to social distancing guidelines, according to Wing Luke’s Shaun Mejia. The Wing Luke does not offer a café or restaurant. Ferguson explained that as a part of the community, it wanted to have a place where patrons could come and experience the exhibits and then go out in the community and enjoy the local restaurants.
In another outreach effort, “Love Letters” sought out artists to submit work to show their love for the neighborhood. Also addressing issues of race and the Black Lives Matters movement, the Wing Luke partnered with Black artist Moses Sun to create a mural for their boards that links to a page for BLM resources.
In the event that the Stay at Home order continues, the Wing Luke will step up its efforts as an educational resource.
“Parents have become homeschoolers,” said Ferguson of the necessity for children staying at home to continue to learn. The Wing Luke Museum, as well as other museums, have been a resource for educational projects.
According to the Washington State Coronavirus Response guidelines, the opening of museums would not occur until Phase 3. On July 16, Gov. Jay Inslee announced new Safe Start phase limits, and the number of individuals allowed in social gatherings during Phase 3 will be reduced from 50 people to 10 people. Regardless, the Wing Luke is gearing up for its eventual return.
The positive news for the Wing Luke is that patronage and support in light of this closure has been tremendous. The end of June marked the end of the organization’s fiscal year and it exceeded its financial goal by over $100,000. Ferguson said this happened without its annual spring gala, which usually brings in much of the donations for the museum.
“A number of new people gave during the shutdown.” Ferguson added, “We are heartened by people seeing the value of what the Wing does. We have a lot of allies that were saddened and disheartened that the ID was under threat and disruption.”
Due to the portrayal of the coronavirus as a disease that originated from China, the neighborhood has experienced anti-Chinese sentiment including property damage and threats. The Wing Luke received donations from 200 new individuals which highlights the work of the board, staff, and the individuals that stepped up during its shutdown.
With an uncertain future for museums, Ferguson remains optimistic.
“I would say for all museums, adjustments are being made.” The Wing Luke has been impacted due to the lack of admission fees and facility rentals. Ferguson explained that the museum’s budget for the next fiscal year will factor in the issues that the pandemic has caused. Still, the Wing anticipates a healthy return once people return.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming people back to the neighborhood and once again serving as concierge for people to explore the community businesses and destinations, and help us all rise up together,” added Board Member Beth Takekawa.
“Health and safety of staff and visitors is uppermost in mind,” Ferguson stressed. “We are so eager to open because we know we are a hub in the ID.”
To learn more about the digital content of the Wing Luke Museum, visit digitalwingluke.org.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.