Ron Chew was born in Seattle and attended Franklin High School and University of Washington. At the university Chew studied journalism and worked as a reporter at the Daily. In his senior year he applied for the position of editor but faculty gave the position to a white student who hadn't applied, prompting Chew to formally charge the Daily with discrimination. Shortly after, Chew left the UW to work at the International Examiner in Seattle's International District. Ultimately the lawsuit vindicated Chew but he did not return to UW to finish his studies.
Chew began working as a reporter at the Examiner in 1975 and in 1977 he became editor. During his tenure he covered local events, social concerns and political issues faced by residents of the International District including substandard housing and health care for the poor and elderly and threats to the historic neighborhood from redevelopment. Chew's connections and involvement in the community through the Examiner honed his skills in community organizing for a cause.
In the late 1980s Chew took on the Chinese Oral History Project, gathering numerous interviews with elderly Chinese Americans. The project became a traveling exhibit and led to his being recruited in 1991 as the new director for the struggling Wing Luke Asian Museum (WLAM).
Under Chew's guidance, WLAM developed the exhibit Executive Order 9066: Fifty Years Before and Fifty Years After in 1992, tracing the stories of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest from their earliest settlement, through the World War II relocation and afterward. The exhibit relied extensively on volunteer community input and was the first WLAM exhibit to place personal stories at the center of exhibit narrative. It received wide acclaim and became the template for exhibit development at WLAM. Since then, WLAM has produced numerous community-based exhibits using the ecomuseum model, highlighting the personal stories of ordinary people as historical actors in order to personalize larger social, political and economic events.
In 2002 the University of Washington recognized Chew's innovative work since leaving college and awarded him an honorary Bachelor of Arts Degree. In 2004 Chew received the Ford Foundations "Leadership for a Changing World Award" and in 2005 the American Association of Museums included Chew in their "Centennial Honor Roll" for his work recasting the museum as a tool in the fight for social justice.
In 2004 Chew, along with his staff, board and community volunteers, undertook a substantial expansion of WLAM by working toward acquiring a historic building in the International District as a permanent home for the museum. A successful $23 million capital campaign enabled the museum to purchase and renovate the East Kong Yick Building as their new home, which opened in 2008. At the conclusion of the campaign, Chew stepped down to pursue a new career as a community history consultant.
Since 2008 Chew has owned and operated Chew Communications, a community history and resource development consulting firm in Seattle. From 2008 to 2010 he was scholar in residence in the museology department at the University of Washington. Presently he also serves as Executive Director of the International Community Health Services Foundation in Seattle, to maintain access to affordable health care in the community.
Chew's recent publications include Community-Based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity through Americans for the Arts outlining the emerging centrality of arts organizations as change agents in communities. in 2009 and Remembering Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes: The Legacy of Filipino American Labor Activism in 2012.
- "Racism at The Daily" (video) http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/chew.htm accessed 25 February 2010
- "History of the IE" http://www.iexaminer.org/about-ie/history/ accessed 25 February 2010.
- "Head of Seattle's Wing Luke Asian Museum to retire" http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20070816&slug=webchew accessed 25 February 2010.
- "Head of Seattle's Wing Luke Asian Museum to retire" http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20070816&slug=webchew accessed 25 February 2010; "The Community as Curator" http://www.leadershipforchange.org/awardees/awardee.php3?ID=209 accessed 25 February 2010; "Centennial Honor roll" http://www.aam-us.org/sp/centennial/honor-roll.cfm accessed 25 February 2010.
- "Seattle's Most Influential People" http://www.seattlemag.com/pages/index.cfm?PAGE_ID=120&ARTICLE_ID=44 accessed 25 February 2010.
- Ly, Diem. "Ron Chew Appointed New Director for ICHS Foundation" International Examiner, 6 October 2010. http://www.iexaminer.org/news/ron-chew-appointed-director-ichs-foundation/ Accessed 2 November 2010.
- "Community-Based Arts Organizations: A New Center of Gravity" http://www.artsusa.org/AnimatingDemocracy/reading_room/reading_019.asp accessed 25 February 2010.