Neon Was Never Brighter: A Glimpse Into The Future of Chinatown

On April 30, Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative (CMAC) will present its inaugural event, "Neon Was Never Brighter," the first-ever contemporary art festival in San Francisco’s Chinatown, offering a glimpse into the future of the historic neighborhood with multiple blocks of unique art activations.

As the first Chinatown in the U.S. with the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, San Francisco Chinatown is one of America’s 10 greatest neighborhoods and an icon of Asian American political power and pride. It is home to immigrant families, small businesses, and restaurants. It is a place where people can enjoy diverse cuisine and learn about Asian American contributions to multiracial democracy in America.

In celebration of the announcement of Edge on the Square, the region’s first Asian Pacific Islander contemporary arts and media destination, opening in 2025 at 800 Grant Avenue, CMAC presents this free contemporary art festival that harnesses the power of art and culture to contribute to the social and economic recovery of Chinatown, and the shaping of a more inclusive and just society.

Curated by Candace Huey, “Neon Was Never Brighter” reflects on Chinatown's resilience and fortitude by honoring its unique history and diverse cultural landscape. Neon is a metaphor for Chinatown’s brightness and strength. Monumental and enduring, the neon signs constructed in the early 20th century atop Chinatown’s storefronts serve as contemporary visual markers of the neighborhood’s tenacity and ongoing legacy. These vivid, colorful historic signs continue to captivate and appeal to the senses of locals and tourists alike, representing the multiplicity and plurality of identities, narratives, and personhoods of Chinatown’s occupants.

Neon Was Never Brighter begins at 3:00 pm PST on April 30, 2022 with a lineup of family-friendly activities and art activations. At 4:00 pm PST, the event’s evening programming will kick off with a procession created by artist Summer Mei Ling Lee. Featuring musicians such as Li Ka Sing 李家聲 who will perform a traditional Chinese song acapella about victory to co-start the procession at 800 Grant, ritual-keepers, artists, performers and community members, including youth from Community Youth Center, will perform acts of light, hope, and joy for Chinatown spaces that have suffered through the last two years. Artistic surprises along the procession route include a collaborative project by renowned trendsetting perfumer, Yosh Han, and artist Billy Ola Hutchinson, for the creative distribution of Han’s “longevity scent.”

The festival unfolds throughout the evening with a series of artist activations across Chinatown, guided by the theme of Chinatown personified: "See Me, Hear Me, Sense Me, Know Me, Remember Me, and Join Me."

“The entirety of CMAC’s inaugural event, Neon Was Never Brighter focuses on the notion of Chinatown personified,” states Huey. “It celebrates this unique neighborhood identity by symbolically giving it a face, body, and voice. Via its people and place, Chinatown breathes and lives. We seek to feel its pulse, still beating as a testament to longevity and posterity.”

Participating artists include Autonomous Region, Bijun Liang, Billy Ola Hutchinson, Brian Singer, Chet Canlas, Corey Tong, Danny Clay, Dorothy Quock, Haoyun Erin Zhao, Felicia Lowe, Fernanda D’Agostino, Heesoo Kwon, James Q. Chan, Knxout, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Lin Yilin, Mark Baugh-Sasaki, Miche Wong, Mike Arcega, Paolo Asuncion, Penelope Wong, Summer Mei Ling Lee, Theresa Wong, Tony Remington, Victor Tung, Yosh Han.

For more information, visit neonwasneverbrighter.org

Image from "Chinatown Shorts: You Are Here" by James Q. Chan and Corey Tong

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