A4 Provides an Allied Creative Space for Asian Artists

Tuesday, Apr 19, 2022

All Asian Arts Alliance Presdient Julie Cai

All Asian Arts Alliance Presdient Julie Cai

A few years back, Julie Cai ‘22 (Drama) found herself auditioning alongside other Asian actors at Tisch Drama’s Festival of Voices. It was a brief moment of synergy within the Asian arts community at Tisch that prompted a simple question: Why don’t we have this all the time? 

Now a graduating senior, Cai is at the helm of the All Asian Arts Alliance, a coalition of Asian-Identifying artists at Tisch building community, collaborating, and celebrating art informed by the Asian Experience. In many ways, it is the community space born directly out of that occasion in 2018. A4, as the group is known, is open to all students who self-identify as Asian. At the moment, the coalition has branches in the departments of Drama, Dramatic Writing, and Film and TV, and have held events with AAPI artist pioneers including Qui Nguyen, Nimesh Patel, David Henry Hwang, and more. 

We recently spoke with Cai, the current president and an original founding member of the coalition who was born in California and raised in China. She shares with us her vision for a dedicated community of artists of Asian descent at Tisch, the challenges of building an affinity group across various departments of study, and her hopes for the next wave of A4 artists and community members.

Note: There is no formal joining process for the All Asian Arts Alliance. If you’re a student looking to become involved, subscribe to the All Asian Arts Alliance mailing list, follow the group on Instagram, and drop in for meetings and events.

Tell me about your path to Tisch and what propelled your involvement with A4.

Julie Cai: In the fall 2018 semester, during the Department of Drama’s Festival of Voices audition process, myself and the other actors were kind of marveling at this rare opportunity to be in a space with other Asian actors. Within the scope of Tisch Drama, it being such a large department with so many students in it, we really rarely get to interact with other students of a particular community. Even within our studios, if we were to create an affinity space, a lot of it relies on folks of different backgrounds coming together to form that space. The numbers are just so small, and the communities are so scattered that we need that solidarity with one another. A lot of my peers were noting that there just wasn't something like that for Asian students, or so it seemed. And then that sparked a couple conversations with myself and some of the other actors involved in the Festival of Voices. 

The following semester we were very lucky to have a course offered called Asian American theatre, which at the time was taught by a PhD candidate who was studying what it means to be Asian American and doing theatre—the history of this in our cultural consciousness. He provided us with this new vocabulary, this new way to communicate with one another and navigate how we were feeling about being an Asian student at an institute like Tisch, which is mostly white [dominant].

It was a really lovely moment of community. So, myself and a couple other students were thinking that it would be great if we could have this all the time, and not just in special circumstances like this class or at the Festival of Voices. That was kind of when we [decided] we should make this club.

What kind of response have you seen from the student community, and how have you worked to build this affinity space across departments and disciplines?

Julie Cai: It’s interesting because we thought there was a natural collaboration that could happen between certain departments—in particular, drama, film and TV, and dramatic writing. And we were also all craving this opportunity to work with other Asian artists in a way that was relevant to our education. We've found that everyone comes to the club with a different goal in mind. Some people are looking to expand their creative network and are looking for a director who can tell a story in a certain way. And then some people are looking for personal connection; they want to meet people who might have similar experiences to them. [Others] are really looking to find a different way to engage with Asian art. One of the challenges is really learning how to serve our community in all those different ways.

We try to develop a variety of programming and we also are very aware of the bias in the Asian American community and where representation really skews towards East Asian. [For example], perhaps we don't have a lot of representation for South Asians, and so we are trying to learn how to provide resources to everybody who identifies as Asian.

What are some of the avenues of support that students can access through A4, and what events are you looking forward to down the road?

We have a newsletter and we have our Instagram page, and we're utilizing NYU Engage to post our events. We’re trying to figure out how we fit into these spaces and how we can utilize our resources at Tisch to sort of expand post-graduation.

One of the biggest questions I've come across is what do we do after we graduate, especially for students who might feel concerned about what their future looks like as a marginalized individual in this industry. We find it really important to highlight… the business aspect. We talk a lot about the creativity and the artistic part of it, and one of the parts that we feel we could use more support is the business side. How do you actually go about doing it? And that’s also a question that can be unique to an Asian art student because of the ongoing stereotype that young Asian people have a hard time getting into the arts because their parents are concerned that it might not be a stable career choice for them. So, in particular, I think our community members are looking for answers that would help them in that sense.

Any last thoughts or words of advice for students looking to become more involved with this community of artists?

Yeah, we are very community-based and even though we have a certain structure and a leadership [team driving us], we really encourage students and community members to offer us suggestions around programming. That’s kind of the environment we try to create—something that's very open. Leadership is continually learning. We are students, just like the people who are in our community. And, for example, I am one of the last two founding members on the leadership team because everyone else has graduated out. So after this semester, myself and the other person are going to be handing off to folks who have since joined the leadership team, and this is something that we really hope has longevity and will evolve.