In September 1967, the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) in Washington, D.C. opened its doors. Founders hoped that it could help reinforce a sense of place, purpose, and history for the local African American community. Since its opening, the ACM has been well received, with one journalist suggesting it should be credited with pioneering the concept of a museum that went outside of its walls to engage its community.
There is, however, one neighborhood museum that opened before the ACM. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District opened four months before its counterpart in the nation’s capital. Named after Wing Luke, a Chinese American politician who advocated civil rights in Seattle during the 1950s and ‘60s, the museum’s mission is to engage Asian Pacific American communities and the public in exploring issues related to the culture, art, and history of Asian Pacific Americans. In essence, the museum presents important issues in U.S. history through an Asian Pacific American lens.
One way the museum serves its mission is through its community exhibition process. Generally lasting 12 to 18 months, the process involves museum staff and community members collaborating to create exhibits that address issues relevant to Asian Pacific Americans. The core of the team is the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), a group of ten to fifteen individuals with some direct connection to the exhibition topic. As a result, the CAC serves as the main decision-making body and is charged with developing the main messages, themes, and content of the exhibit (did I mention the Wing has no curators on staff?). Along with the advisory committee, community volunteers assist museum staff in gathering oral histories, photographs, and artifacts for the exhibit. Later, after it has been installed, these volunteers assume the roles of docents, speakers, and programming participants.
One example of a community-driven exhibition at the Wing was Sikh Community, Over 100 Years in the Pacific Northwest (check out the online version of the exhibition here). Despite living in the U.S. for over a century, many Americans knew little about Sikh culture. In fact, after September 11, 2001, many Sikh men—who wrap their hair in a dastar, or turban—were accused of being terrorists. As a result, many were victims of hate crimes.
With hopes of challenging negative stereotypes and fostering understanding about Sikh culture, faith, and history, the Wing partnered with The Sikh Coalition. The organization works toward civil rights for Sikhs and helped the museum reach out to the Sikh community (the organization even produced solicitation forms in Punjabi, the native language of many Sikhs).
Along with temporary exhibitions such as Sikh Community, the Wing has three permanent exhibitions that explore the life of Wing Luke, the history of the Chinatown-International District, and how one Taiwanese immigrant connects to his heritage while living in the U.S. The museum also offers traveling exhibitions, allowing members of the Asian Pacific American community to share their stories throughout the country.
When it opened in May 1967, the Wing occupied a small storefront on 8th Avenue South in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. Since then, it has been added to the Smithsonian Institution’s Affiliations Program and, as the only national museum dedicated to exploring the Asian Pacific American experience, has been well-received in Seattle and across the country. In 2002, the museum raised over $23 million to rehabilitate a historic building in the Chinatown-International District as its new, 60,000 square feet home. Even with these great changes, the Wing has stayed true to the spirit of advocacy that defined its namesake, Wing Luke. Today, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle continues to engage and inspire the Asian Pacific American community, which ultimately allows all visitors to “step into a uniquely American story.”
 Andrea A. Burns, From Storefront to Monument: Tracing the Public History of the Black Museum Movement (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013) 36-39.
 “About Us,” Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, 2014, http://www.wingluke.org/about-us/; “Mission and History,” Anacostia Community Museum, 2014, http://anacostia.si.edu/Museum/Mission_History.htm.
 “Mission and History,” The Sikh Coalition, 2012, http://www.sikhcoalition.org/about-us/mission-a-history.
 “In the News,” Wing Luke Museum, 2014, http://www.wingluke.org/in-news.
 “Building and Architecture,” Wing Luke Museum, 2014, http://www.wingluke.org/building-architecture.