Nancy Yao, president of the Museum of Chinese language in America (MOCA) in New York’s Chinatown, has been named the inaugural director of the Smithsonian Establishment’s forthcoming American Girls’s Historical past Museum. Critics have side-eyed the appointment, citing allegations of Yao’s complacency towards gentrification, class discrimination, and the carceral state by way of quite a lot of controversial selections in the previous few years of her presidency at MOCA.
“Whereas MOCA will get to see the returns of the $35 million in jail funding that Nancy helped safe, we’re blissful to say so lengthy to their disastrous president,” stated Youth In opposition to Displacement, an anti-displacement and anti-gentrification activism group in New York Metropolis, in an announcement to Hyperallergic. “As an alternative of seeing her legacy of ashes by way of, Nancy is wiping the blood off her fingers and fleeing to DC.”
“Her new function at this museum meant to honor girls begs the query of what sort of girls this museum is supposed to symbolize?” the group added.
MOCA’s board of trustees appointed Yao, a former Goldman Sachs government, because the museum’s president in February of 2015 whereas she served as the chief director on the Yale-China Affiliation. In January of 2020, a five-alarm fireplace ripped by way of the MOCA collections and analysis constructing on 70 Mulberry Road (previously the museum web site), endangering the museum’s archive of greater than 85,000 paperwork and objects. Yao was largely credited with spinning the devastating fireplace in a optimistic mild and bringing nationwide consideration to the museum’s efforts to salvage its broken collections. The museum was closed to the general public for a couple of yr whereas Yao and her workforce initiated “MOCA on the Highway” while within the highlight.
The majority of the controversy surrounding Yao’s function at MOCA started later in October of 2020, when the activist group Chinatown Artwork Brigade (CAB) printed an open letter to the museum outlining Yao’s involvement in accepting the $35 million greenback “neighborhood give-back fund” for a everlasting house and performing arts heart for the museum from the Invoice de Blasio administration in October of 2019. The funds have been administered by way of de Blasio’s plan to close down the Rikers Island detention heart and create or increase jail services throughout 4 boroughs.
Within the letter, CAB referenced Yao’s testimony at a Metropolis Public Scoping session on Borough Based mostly Jails in September, 2018, the place she complained that the NYC Division of Cultural Affairs gave the museum no cash to safe a everlasting house whereas the expanded jail complicated in Chinatown would obtain $300 million. Whereas Yao continued to publicly deny accepting the fund on behalf of the museum for over a yr, the Mayor’s Workplace printed a Factors of Settlement letter (doc web page 16) to the general public on October 19, 2019 that particularly outlined its commitments to MOCA “associated on to the borough-based jails system.”
CAB additionally criticized Yao’s and the museum’s affiliation with board member and luxurious actual property developer Jonathan Chu, stating that his improvement initiatives immediately contributed to the gentrification of Chinatown and deepened the chasm between members of the Chinese language elite and the working class.
MOCA reopened to the general public in July 2021 to a flurry of protests exterior the museum area at 215 Centre Road. Outraged by MOCA’s acceptance of the $35 million and Chu’s connection to the closing of beloved dim sum restaurant Jing Fong, dozens of protesters younger and outdated picketed exterior the museum calling for boycotts, rejecting the fund, and eradicating Chu from the museum board. Amidst the protests and art work withdrawals from artists, Yao maintained to Hyperallergic that the museum has at all times been in opposition to the jail development.
After every week of protests, Yao publicly accused aged protesters of being paid to picket by then Metropolis Council candidate Christopher Marte — a declare that each Marte and the protesters vehemently denied. The protesters started calling for Yao’s resignation from the museum following what they characterised as her “blatant racist and ageist insults” towards Chinatown’s senior residents.
The Smithsonian Institute declined to touch upon the allegations and controversies surrounding Yao’s management. MOCA has not replied to Hyperallergic‘s request for remark.
Yao will stay in her submit at MOCA by way of this June. Whereas the American Girls’s Historical past Museum awaits the event of a brick-and-mortar constructing, Yao will likely be tasked with “sourcing a nationwide assortment, curating everlasting and present exhibitions, and creating academic assets accessible just about,” in line with a press assertion.
The brand new and long-awaited establishment shouldn’t be anticipated to open till 2030. Within the meantime, activists have lots to say in regards to the prospect of Yao’s management: “By uplifting the president of a museum below energetic boycott, a lady who seems down on her personal, accusing aged girls of being paid protestors and attempting to bribe them with low-cost tote baggage, calling the cops on younger girls on the picket line, is that this museum simply attempting to be a Nationwide model of MOCA, falsely celebrating a unique type of id?”