Exploring the Mu & CHAT partnership

Arts / Article

By Rick Shoimi, Artistic Director Mu Performing Arts

I want to address the impact the Knight Foundation grant had upon Mu’s relationship with CHAT (Center for Hmong Arts and Talent). From the 1990’a through to about 2008, Mu has had a cordial though somewhat distant relationship with CHAT.  At times we employed the same actors or theater artists, and were involved in some Asian American community wide events but nothing much more than that.

However in 2008 we both became involved in the pilot project of the National Gender and Equity Campaign of AAPIP (Asian American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy).  That project, which is winding down this year, brought us into much greater awareness of how each of our organizations operated and the advantages of working together. The initial collaboration came with Mu’s support of CHAT’s theater production by its youth leadership group in the spring of 2010.  That turned out to be very successful with the piece Family Portrait being performed a number of times throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.

With that success in mind, the next step from there was applying together on a grant application to Knight Foundation.  The grant was approved and applied to three areas, supporting CHAT’s Youth Leadership Initiative, to Mu’s production of WTF by Katie Ka Vang and to both Mu artists working the CHAT’s youth leadership group and free tickets to Mu’s mainstage productions.

The impact of the Knight grant on the relationship of Mu and CHAT has been huge in so many different ways.  First of course, our artists worked with their youth again to create another theater piece Finding My Soal, which is about polygamy in the Hmong American community. This piece is now being performed this spring and has generated very positive feedback.  Secondly, through Mu’s production of WTF, both organizations found our working relationship to provide great value to our companies.  CHAT had the opportunity to be a part of a higher profile theater production that was reviewed by the major media and drew much larger and broader audiences to a play about the experiences and perspectives of their specific community.  And a number of their young actors had a chance to be involved in a professional production.  For Mu we found that CHAT had a much deeper reach into the Hmong community than we could ever have and that they had a wonderful community based marketing and support system.  And even the casting controversy that came up reflected how strong and deep the relationship between Mu and CHAT had grown in the past few years.  As both organizations examined and evaluated our processes in the production of WTF we found ourselves on the same page, with mutual respect for each other and an understanding of the issues and how we dealt with them.  Through this whole process I believe we have both realized the actual value of our strong working relationship and how important it will be for both of us as we move forward.

Click here for video info about CHAT.