Seattle arts activist and writer Mayumi Tsutakawa has worked on art projects with Alan Lau for many years. In the following letter, she recommended Alan for the Mayor’s Arts Award, which he received in 2014. Mayumi recently left the Washington State Arts Commission as manager of grants for organizations after 14 years. Her father, the noted artist George Tsutakawa, had a great deal of respect for Alan Lau. Mayumi is now working as a writer/editor and meeting facilitator.
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Alan Lau is the behind-the-scenes lifeblood of the Asian Pacific Islander American arts community in Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest. He is an acclaimed painter, published poet, and essential art critic for the nationally recognized Asian Pacific American newspaper, International Examiner, and other publications. Moreover, Alan has created some of the most fundamental building blocks of what makes Seattle a recognized center of Asian Pacific American art in America.
As one of the few ethnic or culturally specific newspapers with regular and rigorous contemporary and historical arts coverage in this nation, International Examiner [celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014]. Alan has served as the intrepid and minimally compensated arts editor for most of those 40 years, writing, editing, and recruiting other writers to produce art exhibition reviews, film reviews, and Asian Pacific American literary supplements including children’s book reviews. His coverage of APIA artists has boosted some of their careers, when scant art writing has been available in Seattle media.
Alan is recognized and has received accolades for his excellent painting and had a continuous relationship with Francine Seders Gallery for several decades. Along with his wife, the art history scholar Kazuko Nakane, he has traveled extensively to Kyoto to hone his sumi painting skills and to paint street scenes of urban Japan.
As a writer and editor, I have worked directly with Alan on one of the five literary anthologies he has published in collaboration with other recognized API writers such as Garrett Kaoru Hongo and Lawson Fusao Inada. When I first got to know Alan about 30 years ago, I knew him for his seminal writing skills in poetry. But together we organized and wrote “Turning Shadows Into Light,” self published under the name Young Pine Press, which was the first anthology in the nation to focus on the early artwork and poetry of pioneer Asian Pacific Islander artists. From the famed Seattle Camera Club to the early Japanese American painters to haiku written in the concentration camps, the book delved into the lives of the early creatives in Seattle including Kyo Koike, Paul Horiuchi, Val Laigo and George Tsutakawa. Only Alan’s tenacity made the book a reality, its excellent design belying shoestring publication budget.
As a long time friend and supporter of Asian Pacific Islander art, media, and literary projects in Seattle, I can think of no better candidate than Alan for this award. I thank the Mayor and the Office of Arts & Culture for considering Alan Chong Lau for the 2014 Cultural Ambassador Award.