Photo credit: Andrew Hida, 2010. “16 Stories From 16 Square Blocks”.

After spending his education in the sciences and even traveling to Panama to work in ecology conservation, Andrew Hida called it quits. His itch for the sciences waned. Years of building his resume for the science field suddenly lost its appeal. His niche and calling made a 360 degree turn when he picked up a camera— it was then that Hida’s passion for the arts and multimedia burgeoned. In June 2010, Hida will open his first gallery exhibit on Seattle’s International District called “16 Square Blocks”, a multimedia documentation of the community’s little-known stories.

Not knowing where his newfound hobby would take him, Hida needed to make decisions fast—even if it meant giving up what he has always known. Letting go of graduate school in the science field was one thing. Another was playing catch-up to the fledgling technology world of digital cameras and the emergence of editing programs for multimedia.

“It’s been a really rough four years,” says, Hida. “It was a ridiculous learning curve. How was I supposed to survive?”

Hida took multiple jobs and gigs to survive his trek as an independent artist. At one point, as a photographer at Teatro ZinZanni—a part circus, part dinner theatre—where he took pictures for couples.

Despite the odds, Hida didn’t stop. He continued to strive, poured out personal savings to fund projects and eventually developed photography skills that led to his aspiration to create social change: unraveling hidden and underrepresented communities using art as a storyteller and platform.

“I hope to inspire social change,” says, Hida. “Something for the people.”

Hida’s last major multimedia project was called “Slow Healing,” a photography project turned documentary about injured Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Coming back to Seattle, he met his next project destination.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hida has found his home in Seattle for the last ten years. After many temporary living situations in different neighborhoods, something about settling in Seattle’s Chinatown captivated him.

Residing in the Hong Kong building on South Jackson Street, Hida’s fascination for the neighborhood grew as he spent more time understanding the people and the businesses that made up the fabric of the community.

“The longer I spent there and the more stories I started hearing — it has this rich history, culture and heritage that really fascinated me,” says, Hida.

The conceptualization for his next story-telling emerged. He shared his fragmented thoughts and pieces with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) and gained unwavering support and valuable insights for this vibrant and historical neighborhood. The partnership began.

Hida tackled grants and soon secured funding from the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts Cultural Affairs and 4Culture from King County. Comprised of unique, heart-felt and humbling stories, Hida gathered the little known voices of Seattle’s Chinatown community and composed 10 featured stories through a series of 100 identically lit black and white portraits, written articles and multimedia documentary clips.

“I’m looking to feature unsung heroes, little known individuals, communities or sub cultures that are not typically associated with Chinatown,” says, Hida. “But, are completely essential to the functioning and the fabric of the neighborhood.”

From following Nicaraguans and Mexicans that congregate in a Latino Jewish Church called Iglesia de Dios (Israelita) to capturing the story of Virgilio Basabe, a Filipino War Veteran, Hida’s initial plunge in to Chinese American history and culture led to the discovery of contemporary stories that while appear contrary to the stereotypical life of Chinatown—are vital stories that shape the community.

He wanted to reshape how people think of Chinatown. He wanted people to re-evaluate and identify a Chinatown in its contemporary setting. This extensive multimedia project came to be “16 Square Blocks”, a name derived through a personal interpretation when he read that Seattle’s Chinatown was originally delineated by four streets.

“Dearborn and Jackson Street (North and South) and 5th and 8th Avenue (East and West),” says, Hida. “That comprises as 16 Square Blocks.”

On June 3, “16 Square Blocks” will celebrate the community with an opening reception during Wing Luke Museum’s JamFest. Using a donated commercial property turned gallery, Hida’s multimedia project will be displayed during the month of June and only opened on Fridays from 3 – 6 p.m., weekends from 12 – 4 p.m. and by appointments. The projected is also available through an interactive website: www.16squareblocks.com.

“I did this in celebration for the community,” says, Hida. “The more I learned about the community, I wanted to give back.”

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