Gentrification is inevitable, the folks at Chinatown Soup know that. But Michelle Esteva, Jordan Hill, and Max Waldman are ready. Sleeves rolled up and muscles flexed, they’re eager to preserve the cultural heritage of Chinatown — downtown Manhattan’s final frontier — one art exhibition at a time.
“There’s a reason we want to be here,” says Esteva, director of the nonprofit and graduate student at NYU. “It’s not just the real estate. I think there’s an energy here that attracts everybody — you can’t put a price on that. It’s really a gravitational force.”
The emerging cultural arts organization, a play off Detroit Soup and other locally funded art projects throughout the United States, seeks to be a creative intervention to Lower Manhattan’s rapidly changing socio-economic landscape. Like the folk tale “Stone Soup,” where weary travelers persuade local villagers to contribute what food they’re able to a stone pot, Chinatown Soup wants aims to be a community-oriented arts and activism project that maintains the cultural fabric of Chinatown.
Operating under the “build it and they will come” philosophy, the nonprofit has been hosting a series of art exhibitions at its home on 16B Orchard Street as part of its soft opening. The idea is to create a malleable platform for artists and art enthusiasts alike. “In Bloom,” a week-long exhibition that ended Monday, featured the artwork of Cooper Union students.
“Like a lot of different parts of New York City, change is inevitable and ultimately healthy but the communities that you see down here are so rich and so entrenched and have such complex histories that are in danger of being overlooked with the influx of cultural entities and modern population and demographics,” says Waldman, NYU senior and head of Soup’s digital and graphic presence. “Our job is to preserve the cultural richness and cultural aspects of the place we all call home. We have a very strong interest in community relationships.”
“It’s really about orchestrating a collective within the community and keeping the fabric of the community stored in the present,” says Hill, who worked for Sotheby’s.
To kick off the summer and as Soup’s official “hello,” it will be hosting LAWLESS next Friday, May 15. In collaboration with Museum of Chinese in America, the exhibit will explore the stereotypes of Chinatown through youth gangs and counterculture of the 1970’s.