Executive Order 9066: 50 Years Before and 50 Years After (exhibition)


Exhibition on the Japanese American experience in the Seattle area mounted by the Wing Luke Asian Museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. The exhibition was organized, scripted, and constructed largely by volunteer community members and was accompanied by an exhibition catalog authored by David Takami.

The exhibition originated in early 1991, shortly after Ron Chew, a journalist with no prior museum experience, took over as the director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum. The museum, which had been founded in 1967, was named after a pioneering Chinese American political leader who had been elected to the Seattle City Council, but who tragically died in a plane crash at the age of forty. Entrusting a group of local community members who had been meeting at the museum with the exhibition and purposely eschewing professional curators, Chew greenlighted the project, setting a $110,000 fund raising goal. Over the next year, the exhibition team—led by research coordinators Harry Fujita and Sally Yamasaki and design chair Michelle Kumata—scoured the community for objects and photographs and conceptualized the exhibition. They made two key decisions early on: (a) that though the exhibition would focus on the World War II incarceration fifty years later, that it would also include the prewar and postwar experiences; and (b) that the centerpieces of the exhibition would be the reconstructions of a the facade of a prewar Japanese American drugstore and of a barracks room from the Minidoka, Idaho, concentration camp, where the bulk of Seattle's Japanese American population had been incarcerated.

Thanks to extensive local publicity in both Asian American community and mainstream media, the team gathered hundreds of objects and photographs and had raised $113,000 for the project by mid-January 1992.[1] Among the 100 community members who contributed to the exhibition were David Takami, who, in addition to authoring the exhibition catalog, wrote the exhibition text; Jeff Hanada, who designed the exhibition; and journalist and wood craftsman Bob Shimabukuro, who constructed it. In the end, the group selected 175 photographs and 75 artifacts. The exhibition took up the entire first floor of the museum.[2]

The exhibition opened as scheduled on February 19, 1992, drawing acclaim from the local community and press and receiving the Award of Institutional Excellence from the Washington Museum Association.[3] Also released was the 62-page exhibition catalog, with photographs from the exhibition and text by David Takami. The exhibition ran through August 30, 1992, drawing over 50,000 visitors. The barracks became part of the museum's permanent exhibition and a smaller version of the exhibition traveled subsequently. Encouraged by the strong response to the exhibition—which included increased attendance and an increase in museum memberships—Chew led subsequent exhibitions using the same community based model, gaining national recognition for this new approach to museum programming.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

"Community Process." Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience website. http://www.wingluke.org/exhibit-process/.

International Examiner. February 19, 1992. http://www.iexaminer.org/archives_90/92_02_2.pdf. [Issue includes several articles on the opening of the exhibition, including a commentary by Ron Chew and a map of the exhibition.]

Overmyer, Deborah A., and Geoffrey J. Giglierano. "American Museums and Executive Order 9066: Who Has Told the Story, The Story That Was Told." In Alien Justice: Wartime Internment in Australia and North America. Edited by Kay Saunders and Roger Daniels. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2000. 234–54.

Takami, David A. Executive Order 9066: 50 Years Before and 50 Years After: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle. Seattle: Wing Luke Asian Museum, 1992.

———. Divided Destiny: A History of Japanese Americans in Seattle. Seattle University of Washington Press and Wing Luke Asian Museum, 1998.

Footnotes

  1. Mary Akamine, "Japanese Americans 'Open Up' in EO 9066 Exhibit," International Examiner, Jan. 22, 1992, 3. Major sponsors for the exhibition included American Airlines, King County Cultural Development Fund, Motoda Foundation, Seattle City Council, and Security Pacific Bank.
  2. Akamine, "Japanese Americans 'Open Up,'"; Carol Yip, "Wing Luke's 'Marvelous Gift' Opens to the Public," International Examiner, Feb. 19, 1992, 1, 5. The February 19 issue of the International Examiner includes a map of the exhibition.
  3. See, for instance, Yip, "Wing Luke's 'Marvelous Gift,'"; Deloris Tarzan Ament, "Internment Exhibit Is a Stunner," Seattle Post-Intellgencer, Feb. 20, 1992, accessed on August 27, 2013 at http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920220&slug=1476827; and Bob Shimabukuro, "For the ID, RC's the Real Thing, Baby, Uh Huh," International Examiner, March 4, 1992, 8.