Several days after being notified that he had received this year’s City of Seattle Mayor’s Art Award for the title of Seattle’s 2014 Cultural Ambassador, Alan Chong Lau was a little shy of a response.
“It came as a total shock,” Lau said.
But for many artists and cultural advocates in Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, honoring Lau at the municipal level has been a long time coming. The mayor’s Cultural Ambassador award recognizes “exemplary work across disciplines, as an artist and as an administrator, pushing the field forward from all sides,” as stated on the Seattle’s Mayor’s Office Arts Award nomination website. Not only has he become a well recognized visual artist, poet, and a nationally revered arts editor at the International Examiner for more than 30 years, Lau has also been instrumental in helping many API artists develop their careers, encouraging and promoting their work through curating and coordinating arts events throughout town.
One product of Lau’s mentorship, Michelle Kumata, a former Seattle Times staff artist and current exhibition director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Pacific American Experience (The Wing), calls Lau “the uncelebrated laborer and catalyst for APIA arts.”
Kumata wrote in a letter recommending Lau for the Mayor’s Cultural Ambassador’s award: “I first met Alan when I was in high school, and through his continued encouragement, I created my own path incorporating visual art and community work: playing taiko, attending art school, working for community organizations and publications, then as a staff artist at The Seattle Times, to my current position at the Wing Luke Museum, where I am honored to work collaboratively with artists and community members. Alan continues to serve as a touchstone and inspiration for my work and life.”
Lau’s 1980 book of poetry, Songs for Jadina, won a Before Columbus Award. His poetic memoir, Blues and Greens: A Produce Worker’s Journal, published in 2000, tells the story of working-class Asian American in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. Since 1980, Lau has displayed his visual artwork at Francine Seders Gallery until Seders’ recent retirement. Most recently, he has been responsible for creating many of Seattle’s “pop-up” art events at The Wing, Kobo at Higo’s, Elliot Bay Book Company, and M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery, among others.
Cassie Chinn, The Wing’s deputy executive director, calls Lau a “trusted advisor and guiding force for The Wing as we have refined our art exhibitions, grown our artist relationships, and developed strategies to best support Asian Pacific American (APA) artists in our region.”
Chinn wrote in her letter recommending Lau for his award: “His advocacy to lift up the voices and work of APA artists and share them broadly with all has laid a strong foundation and inspiring vision for us to follow.”
When reflecting on all of his community work and artistic achievements, Lau’s reasons are simple and profound.
“You just do what you do because you want to do it,” Lau said. “I am not trying to create a career. I’m just trying to create.”
Mayor Ed Murray will officially recognize Lau at the Mayor’s Arts Awards ceremony on Friday, August 29 at 4:00 p.m. at Seattle Center at the Fisher Stage along with other Mayor’s Art Award recipients: MOHAI & Leonard Garfield for “City of Creativity,” Path with Art for “Social Justice,” Snoqualmie Indian Tribe for “Cultural Investment,” Stephen Stubbs for “Raising the Bar,” and TeenTix for “Future Focus.”