in Conversation: Beverly Nann
May is Asian Heritage Month in Vancouver as Asian culture steps to the fore as the city celebrates with explorASIAN, an explosion of Asian culture and heritage that takes over the city for the entire month (and beyond).
The Bulletin talked to Beverly Nann, Vice-president of the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society, about this month’s festivities.
Tell me a little about yourself – how did you end up mixed up in Asian Heritage Month and exploration?
Through my introduction to Jim Wong-Chu one of the founders of the explorASIAN festival. My daughter, Andrea Nann, a choreographer-performance artist, was part of a group of Canadian Asian dancers based in Toronto who were constantly being confused for one another (all Asians look alike) so they decided to produce a dance work to show that they are four diverse Asian dancers. They named their production Cha something they had in common, a culture of tea. They were interested in performing Cha in Vancouver during Asian Heritage Month. I approached Jim for assistance. This was to be Jim’s last Asian Heritage Month festival. He was ready to “throw in the towel” as all the other artists involved in founding the festival had dropped off. I told Jim it was too important a concept to let die and offered my assistance to put into place an infrastructure to support the festival. That was 1999.
Asian heritage – that’s a real big umbrella! How do you choose what to focus on each year? Is there a particular focus this year?
I agree that it is a big umbrella but one with the potential of making a difference in moving Canada’s multicultural agenda forward. The explorASIAN festival is the only organization representing the wide diversity of the Asian community –from the middle east, such as Turkey, to the far east, Japan. This Pan-Asian community represents close to 50% of the Greater Vancouver population. However, despite the fact that Canada was officially declared a multicultural society in 1971 there still exists an underrepresentation of the arts emerging out of these communities in the mainstream arts and cultural sector. The explorASIAN festival not only provides a platform for showcasing of the arts and culture emerging out of the Pan-Asian community it also provides a “soft sell” vehicle to introduce/educate the public on important social-cultural issues in the Pan-Asian community. The artistic community is not afraid to articulate critical issues of concern in their community through their art. I believe artists are on the cutting edge of defining who we are as Canadians. As a board we have identified the themes of integration into the mainstream culture, your Canadian identity and hybridization of cultures as important multicultural issues to address at this time.
Vancouver has one of the highest Asian populations outside of Asia. In spite of that, or maybe because of it, there continue to be tensions between Asians and non-Asians. How does explorAsian tackle these tensions?
•By using the explorASIAN festival as a vehicle for introducing/educating the general public on the Asian communities.
•By engaging the wider general public in the explorASIAN festival . This year we were fortunate to secure the print sponsorship of the Vancouver Courier. The festival program guide appears as the centerfold of the April 25 edition of the paper which is distributed to 140,000 +homes and newsstands throughout Vancouver.
•By engaging mainstream institutional support for the festival eg. SFU, UBC, Vancouver Public Library – lending credibility to the explorASIAN festival.
•Cultural differences and tensions also exist between Asian communities – explorASIAN promotes networking and facilitates collaboration amongst the diverse Asian groups who come together for the festival.
I’ve heard you talk about “ethnic silos” – what does that mean?
Where ethnic groups become institutionally complete and self sufficient—in other words there is no need for them to venture outside of their ethnic group for any services –professional, shopping, trades etc. How then do we integrate those living an ethnic ghetto life into the mainstream?
What are YOU excited to attend this year?
Frankly I’m looking forward to taking in as many of the exciting, interesting and diverse festival offerings as possible — they are a reflection of the Asian presence in Canadian society. Many of the events are free or are minimal in cost. I’m hoping the general public will take advantage of this opportunity to sample and be introduced to the richness of our Asian heritage.
So I’m an up-and-coming Asian artist and I want to present at explorAsian next year – what kind of support will you provide me? Do you have criteria?
•Extra marketing and promotional support
•Networking opportunities to wider Pan Asian community and mainstream cultural community
•annual Generation One exhibition of artworks by first generation immigrants is a curated event
•we would expect your art to somehow reflect and support our current theme
Every festival has its challenges. What are yours?
•Having sufficient monetary and human resources to create a successful festival
•A base of ongoing core funding support for festival
•Recruiting committed, strong leaders for the board with the expertise to contribute to the festival who are passionate about our mission