Summer Centered: Emma Chen '21 Puts Activism into Art
The English major is promoting local art and community engagement as an intern at Philadelphia's Asian Arts Initiative.
Emma Chen ’21 has always been interested in art and activism, and her summer internship offered the perfect opportunity to explore both. Supported jointly by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, the English major is interning at the Philadelphia-based Asian Arts Initiative.
The multidisciplinary and community-focused arts center, located in the city’s Chinatown North neighborhood, works to advance racial equity and understanding by activating artists, youth, and the local community through creative practice and dialogue grounded in the diverse Asian American experience. From researching the neighborhood’s rich history, to inquiring into the city’s current art movements, Chen has taken on a series of roles at the organization to help further its mission.
“Every week, I staff a community outreach and engagement program that is organized in collaboration with two other organizations in the neighborhood, aimed at the residents of Chinatown and Chinatown North, with the goal of activating public spaces for community use and encouraging conversation and interaction between local residents,” she said.
Chen’s studies in the English Department, as well as a lifelong interest in art, drew her to the program, which utilizes the benefits of creative expression to tackle present concerns and societal issues.
“I’ve seen how the arts enrich the quality of life of those who are lucky enough to both participate in and observe them,” she said. “I was curious about how exactly it might be mobilized to generate conversation, address social problems, and forge connections between members of a community.”
Though Chen has always had an interest in social justice and activism (she minors in environmental studies), this internship has been her first taste of an occupation centered around those values. In preparation for her internship, she attended the CPGC’s Philadelphia Orientation Program, a weeklong course at the start of the summer.
“[It] opened my eyes to a vast array of social justice-related work that folks in Philadelphia have devoted their efforts to,” she said. “I don’t have any previous experience with socially minded practices, but through that program, the CPGC gave me a new lens and perspective through which I was able to approach the work I’ve been doing.”
While Chen’s stay at the organization has enhanced her academic outlook on art and activism, just as educational has been the time she’s spent exploring the city firsthand, getting to know its nooks and crannies.
“AAI is located in Philly’s Chinatown, so it’s not far from Haverford, but it has felt like a new place for me,” she said. “Through getting to know the wonderful people at AAI and the community here, I feel much more connected to the city as a whole.”
As she enters her junior year, Chen has set her eyes on further opportunities for social-justice work.
“My time at AAI has been eye-opening to me as an example of the practice of socially engaged art and community cultural planning, both of which expanded my conception of what exactly art is, and what an arts organization is capable of,” she said.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.