The pandemic made the Asian Pasifika Arts Collective rethink the way it does things. The Baltimore collective dedicated to amplifying Asian American and Pacific Indigenous (AAPI) artists had to cancel in-person meetups, happy hours, showcases and workshops. They held a creative writing event online and for the first time reached artists abroad in the UK, Cyprus and India.
“We were forced to rebrand,” said Catrece Ann Tipon, a founder and co-executive director of the Collective. “COVID was kind of a blessing for our organization, because we were able to expand outside Maryland and outside of Baltimore City.”
Tipon, an artist and nurse at University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, turned to photography to process her heightened stress during the pandemic.
“There was no consistency or knowing what we would walk into every day and sometimes our unit would be turned upside down to prepare for an overflow,” she said. “Whenever I wasn’t at work, I was usually taking pictures to get my head back into a safe space, so that I could prepare myself for the unknown.”
The staff includes Tipon, co-founder and executive director Cori Dioquino and a five-member volunteer advisory committee. Tipon and Dioquino put 15 to 30 hours a week into planning and programming for the Collective.
“Since 2018 when the organization was founded, we’ve never been officially paid for any of it,” said Tipon, 27. “It was all voluntary up until two months ago, because our passion for the organization, what it stands for, was what was driving us forward.”
The executive directors were able to pay themselves stipends for the first time due to a sponsorship from Hoffberger Family Philanthropies and a grant from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Amid the pandemic, the Collective has been amplifying AAPI voices in Baltimore and beyond through art and activism. It produced a virtual version of its AAPI Voices storytelling series with over 1,350 views, and Dioquino became a founding team member of #UnapologeticallyAsian, a campaign to empower all Asians and “redefine what it means to be American.” The Collective also held two virtual galleries and co-hosted a workshop with Towson University’s Asian Arts & Culture Center and Filipino-American artist Lek Borja.
The theme Crossing Borders will guide programming throughout 2021 and left Aditya Desai with questions he hopes to answer through mentoring artists and editing the collective’s blog that launched during the pandemic. Too Much/Not Enough features art ranging from personal essays to poetry and interviews.
“What does it mean to cross a border,” said Desai, a writer, teacher, and activist based in Station North.
“What kinds of borders? Are they actual political ones or [are] they physical ones? Are they borders within ourselves or the borders within the community?”
In April, Desai released the blog’s issue, “New Outlooks.”
“We were planning on launching, and we hear about this killing in Atlanta, which gave everything a weird, strange resonance, because a lot of these pieces were dealing with traumas and fractures and conflicts,” said Desai, 33.
On March 16, a series of attacks occurred at three spas in Atlanta, killing eight people. The mass shootings, which took the lives of six women of Asian descent, stirred outrage, fear in the Asian-American community and was viewed as a culmination of centuries of hypersexualization of Asian women.
Desai and staff from the Collective attended a local vigil in Baltimore.
In “New Outlooks,” a fiction piece by Lyra Yang — a Baltimore-based short story writer, playwright and screenwriter from China — delved into the culture clashes she experienced when moving to the U.S. for college. Musician Steve Hung wrote about composing a blues album that bridged his political activism around Black Lives Matter and grappling with the rise in anti-Asian violence.
In Maryland, more than 51 hate crimes against people in the Asian community have been reported. Between March 2020 and March 2021, over 6,600 incidents in the U.S. were reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition addressing anti-Asian racism. Anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked almost 150% since the pandemic began, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
In response to anti-Asian hate crimes, the collective launched an AAPI arts contest across the East Coast in May. Artists between the ages of 18 and 26 can submit work until August 2, and the top ten will be featured in the Collective’s 2022 Virtual Art Gallery. The top three will receive a cash prize, professional development and networking opportunities.
“Colleges haven’t really taught them how to market themselves and grow themselves as an artist,” said Tipon, who lives in White Marsh. “We want to give these artists a head start, and we just wanted to empower the Asian community to share their stories loudly and unapologetically.”
Also in May, the Collective partnered with StoryCorps to share, record and preserve AAPI stories within Baltimore and around the region through audio. StoryCorps is a nonprofit that has a weekly broadcast on NPR and a mobile booth that travels nationwide recording interviews that are archived at the Library of Congress.
This fall, the Collective will publish another issue for their blog and host their AAPI Voices storytelling event virtually.
Stephanie García is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities. Follow her @HagiaStephia
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.