Cassie Chinn reminds me of the girl I wanted to be in high school — the one who was always working on some philanthropy project and still had time to spend with friends, work, and be the kindest person around.
The 39-year-old graduate of Franklin High School studied Art History at UC Berkeley and completed her masters at the University of Washington. She earned a teaching degree at Seattle University and even taught math at Ballard High School.
Now Chinn is teaching in a different way. As Deputy Executive Director at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, she is the advisor for the museum’s exhibits and helps the Asian American community curate, showcase and preserve the art and artifacts of their ancestors.
“Community members become the curators and they decide on the design, content and vision of each exhibit,” Chinn said. Exhibitions are selected and tailored through focus groups to showcase their history, as well as that of their ancestors.
What has resulted includes permanent exhibitions such as the Community Portrait Galleries, which highlights stories of Vietnamese, Indian and Filipino Americans, and also features the Cambodian Cultural Museum and Killing Fields Memorial.
“I listened to people’s wishes and desires at the museum,” said Chinn.
Chinn was heavily involved in the Wing Luke’s move to the century-old East Kong Yick Building located in the heart of the International District — and was an integral member of the Capital Campaign, a 10-year project that started in 1998 and ultimately raised over $23 million dollars for the museum’s new space.
The East Kong Yick Building was no ordinary structure, she said, and that adds to the museum’s character. In 1910, 170 Chinese immigrants pooled their money to construct the building. The building eventually went unoccupied and was neglected, including the West Kong Yick building next door.
The building was renovated with the campaign funds and reopened as the Wing Luke Asian Museum in 2008. Revived along with it were memories of Chinese immigrants’ settlement in the International District — children playing in the alleys, import shops and the growth of other Asian groups in Seattle.
“We held the responsibility to caretake a legacy, but at the same time create space for future generations,” Chinn said, recalling when the museum was looking for a new home and considered the East Kong Yick. “We needed to ensure the legacy would be preserved and stay in the hands of the community.”
More than 26 different Asian American groups are represented in its art and history exhibits – a huge undertaking for the museum.
“It was overwhelming,” Chinn said. “What we could do at the old space was rotate art and history exhibits. We couldn’t do both.”
The old space had 7,000 square feet of exhibition space. Compare that to the 60,000 square feet of exhibition space it has now — plenty of room for art and history exhibitions, along with a gift shop and community meeting room.
“I want to continue to infuse the community and get them involved in projects,” Chinn said.
Aside from work, Chinn wants to settle into married life. She recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary.
For Chinn, getting recognized at the Community Voice Awards is a new experience and she’s bewildered by the acknowledgment.
“I always enjoy working behind the scenes and not being in that broader arena,” she said. “I don’t know what to make of it. It’s definitely an honor and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share more about the museum.”
Join the country’s only non-profit Pan-Asian American news organization in honoring our community’s unsung heroes: Outstanding Organization – the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF); Vu Le who is earning the Tatsuo Nakata Youth Award; Cassie Chinn who is honored for her work at the Wing Luke Asian Museum; and Sharon Maeda for the Lifetime Achievement Award. These deserving individuals are testament to the on-going sacrifice and courage it takes to preserve a people, uplift its community and advocate for its needs. The IE shares in this celebration and hope you’ll join us in this month of May which serves as APA Heritage Month – a time of commemoration and honor. Purchase Tickets Here