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A Contemporary Art Festival Lights Up San Francisco’s Chinatown

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A detail of Haoyun Erin Zhao's 'Peach Blossom Spring 桃花源記,' on view 3–10pm on Wentworth Place in San Francisco's Chinatown.

The first contemporary art festival in San Francisco’s Chinatown is making a very persuasive argument to carve out a large chunk of your Saturday for a free, outdoor and truly multimedia extravaganza. Among the art forms listed for “Neon Was Never Brighter: A Glimpse into the Future,” taking place on April 30, are augmented reality, site-specific installation, fashion and scent (!).

The day’s many diversions, provided by nearly 30 artists and collectives, are presented by the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative (CMAC), a partnership of local organizations that includes the Chinese Historical Society and the Chinese Cultural Center. “Neon Was Never Brighter” is CMAC’s first public event, a kind of proof-of-concept for what the future holds as the project works on its permanent home. In 2021, the state allocated $26.5 million to CMAC to purchase and develop 800 Grant Ave. into Edge on the Square, a new Asian Pacific Islander arts and media center scheduled to open a block from Portsmouth Square in spring 2025.

On Saturday, artists’ projects are distributed throughout the neighborhood with some on view for the duration; events are timed to allow audiences to flit from one showcase to another.

Not to be missed is Mike Arcega and Paolo Asuncion’s TNT Traysikel, a vibrantly painted motorcycle and sidecar, which will be on the move 3–10pm. This mobile sculpture/karaoke booth creates an instantaneous party wherever it stops—just follow your ears.

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Another highlight of the festival is Chinatown Shorts: You Are Here, a 5–6pm screening at Great Star Theater. This one is sold out, but it can never hurt to try your chances in case free ticket-holders don’t show up, as they are sometimes wont to do. The shorts are sneak previews of films about two Chinatown fashion icons—tour guide and local historian Dorothy Quock and couture designer Victor Tung. A fashion show of their creations follows the screenings.

And be sure to stop by 800 Grant for Heesoo Kwon’s Ovulation, on view 3–10pm. The SECA finalist presents an endlessly looping video that “captures the moment of rebirth of her female ancestors and herself into Lymusoom” (an autobiographical feminist religion created by the artist in 2017). Stick around for an 8pm performance by LionDanceME to close out the day’s festivities.

If Saturday’s program is an indication of CMAC’s intent to support local artists and bring exciting programming into conversation with the neighborhood’s vibrant past and present, the future is indeed bright.

Neon Was Never Brighter: A Glimpse into the Future takes place in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Saturday, April 30, 3–10pm. Details and full schedule here.

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