New director welcomed to Vincent Price Art Museum

By Breanna Fierro

MAN IN CHARGE—VPAM welcomes new director Steven Y. Wong and learns about his passions in art and activism.

Vincent Price Art Museum welcomed artist and activist Steven Y. Wong as the new director.

VPAM interim education program coordinator Natalie Sanchez, welcomed the department of art, the museum studies advisory committee and chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, to a virtual meeting for all to meet Wong. 

Political rights and social justice activist Steven Y. Wong introduced himself for the first time as the new director and senior curator at the VPAM. 

The main focus during the meeting was to discuss his previous work, family history and to review his educational background.

Wong’s artistic background and expertise comes from fighting justice for Asian American communities. 

His ultimate goal is to not only continue the Latin exhibitions at VPAM but also focus on the under represented Asian and Chinese communities. This can ensure that these exhibitions make the connection to bring them together stronger than before.

He believes his passion, is his greatest strength and is deeply passionate about social justice.

In his teen years, Wong witnessed a Caesar Chavez protest that many students including himself attended in support of the farm workers. 

This is when his passion for the arts and for social justice came into play.

As a fourth generation Asian American he struggled throughout grade school. While he did not have a realistic path in academic studies, his drive for equality, creativity and passion for the arts is what secured his future. 

“I think public schools in general lack support for students who are having problems. I think being Asian American definitely hurt me, how that manifested itself is the idea of the mono minority,” Wong said. 

He believed we are all oppressed. He said, “If one group is oppressed, then we are all oppressed, it’s intersectional.”

Growing up on the Westside of Santa Monica during the late ‘70s,Wong felt as if he grew up in a non-traditional household. 

He said, his mother never pushed her language on him. It wasn’t functional in the household. 

That became the contributing factor in why Wong isn’t fluent in the Chinese language today.

 In public outings, Wong’s mother would provide Wong crayons and pencils to write or draw with. 

He said this distracted him from the language barrier faced when attempting to listen to the conversations his father and friends had growing up, which eventually benefited his art.

Wong said he grew up as a latchkey kid through little to no supervision, with both parents working—mother worked as a teacher and father at a carpet factory in Lincoln Heights. 

His parents consistently enrolled him in afterschool programs and daycare programs that were invested with art components. This drove Wong’s passion for art even further.

He noticed at a young age that he thrived in the arts, but always had challenges in the academia department.

With no family pressure to attend college, Wong did have social pressure that he witnessed through his friends. 

He enrolled into a special art program at Santa Monica College and discovered his newfound love of learning. 

Wong didn’t believe he would be where he is today if he didn’t attend community college, so it helped him navigate the way into an art career.

He felt as if Santa Monica College lacked proper representation. Besides being critical about it, he felt it was also important to get his act together, to learn the love of learning, by working hard and networking. 

It was an opportunity for him to change old habits because the art world began to appear diverse and Wong felt as if there was still work that needed to be done. 

This challenge fueled his interest and he became passionate about making that change.

Dean of UCLA Art Department Henry Hopkins mentored Wong when he was attending Santa Monica college by suggesting and helping him get into UCLA. This is where Wong received his master’s degree in art and Asian American studies.

Wong’s first introduction to public art was through graffiti and he continued to curate artists who participate in graffiti art since. 

He said, during the ‘80s it was less acceptable as an artform and wasn’t necessarily a career path, but he did this art publicly and found a community of artists through being a graffiti artist.

His first show, in 2010, brought together graffiti artists. It responded to immigratio reform and predominantly Latin artists with some Chinese and Asian American artists. This is something Wong was able to bring when working at the Chinese American Museum. 

When working for the Chinese American Museum, Wong said he realized the primary representation was Chinese American artists and felt as if the museum should represent the whole Los Angeles community so it led him to curate shows for himself.

Moving on to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery where he was hired to diversify the exhibitions, he said the gallery specifically hired him because he was curating artists of color, while the ambition was to elevate diverse artists.

He worked there for three years, before moving over to VPAM.

Through his academia and throughout the assistance he was provided in schooling beginning at Santa Monica College just motivated him in wanting to give that same appreciation back to the East Los Angeles College. 

As a former community college student, he felt indebted through the college education he received and wants to continue that work at VPAM.

“As a curator you can only do so much in terms of policies and curating shows,” he said, and while a director he can push forward his agenda in making sure VPAM continues to provide high profile shows that focus on Chicano and Latin art. 

Wong plans to begin to bridge these communities that are in between about collaborating with different communities such as Asian-American or Chinese communities.

“ELAC is a diverse campus, the VPAM staff is diverse, the VPAM board is diverse, but it feels what a lot of institutions have been overlooking are the collections, how to reframe collection policies of collecting and exhibiting pieces from the collection that are relevant to the student population and to the communities of color,” Wong said.

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