Jenn Low

Designer Miu Eng speaks with participants at Dear Chinatown, DC: A poster making pop-up, October 2021 Photo: Jenn Low

Dear Chinatown, DC

​​​​​​​Dear Chinatown, DC is an ongoing participatory art, asset mapping, and place-keeping initiative to generate innovative ideas and proposals for cultural place-keeping in DC’s Chinatown. The project aims to make visible a richer and deeper story about the neighborhood that can better inform planning and design decisions based on community-driven visions and priorities.

On Saturday, October 16, Low organized the first of a series of events at the MLK Library that will continue into 2022. The first event, Dear Chinatown, DC: A poster-making pop-up featured interactive art making with graphic designer, Miu Eng. Eng, a graphic designer, is a former Chinatown resident and active participant in the social activism work in the 1970s Chinatown. An accompanying mobile exhibit by the Humanities truck showcased Eng's graphic design work from the 1970s and 1980s.

By creating events which amplify the existing culture of Chinatown residents, Dear Chinatown has helped its partner, The 1882 Foundation, achieve major milestones. At its launch in 2020, the project invited past and present residents to share what they treasured most about D.C.’s Chinatown through the making of poster-sized love letters. The posters and data from Dear Chinatown were compiled into an interactive, digital map to support a future, larger, participatory asset mapping project effort. In spring 2021, Dear Chinatown DC took form as a landscape architecture design studio at the University of Washington, which helped the 1882 Foundation secure a $500,000 Humanities in Place grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to support expanded cultural programming and the transformation of the 1882 Foundation’s Chinatown headquarters into a story center and social workspace.

The success of this partnership points to the value that integrative design can bring to cultural heritage projects. According to 1882 Foundation Executive Director Ted Gong, “let's get as much awareness out as we can about these types of events to get people to appreciate these collaborations and build interest in a cultural zone for D.C.’s city center.” 

As noted in the recent press release announcing the 1882 Foundation’s Humanities in Place award, “we have been here, we will always be here, and we are proud to be given the opportunity to enable greater visibility of the work we and our community of storytellers, educators, and culture-bearers do to support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.”

About Jenn Low

Jenn Low
Photo: Imagine Photography
​​​​​​​Jenn Low is an integrative designer, educator and landscape architect. She is the Associate Design Director at Openbox, and serves as a Board Director at the Urban Studio and leads place-keeping projects at the 1882 Foundation. With thirteen years of experience as a landscape architect and her recent studies as an integrative designer, Low works at the intersection of participatory design and public history, and her work seeks to redistribute power in our design processes to advance our work toward spatial justice. Low is also a core organizer with Dark Matter University, a collective of design educators working toward an anti-racist model of design education and practice.

Partners: The 1882 Foundation, the Urban Studio, the American University Humanities Truck. and Asian American Youth Leadership Empowerment and Development (AALEAD)