Chinese Culture Center

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Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco
Abbreviation CCC
Formation 1965; 52 years ago (1965)
Founder J.K. Choy
Type 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy organization
Executive Director
Mabel Teng
Mission To uplift underserved communities and give voice to equality using art and education.

The Chinese Culture Center (simplified Chinese: 旧金山中华文化中心; traditional Chinese: 舊金山中華文化中心; pinyin: Jiùjīnshān Zhōnghuá Wénhuà Zhōngxīn; Jyutping: Gau6gam1saan1 Zung1waa4 Man4faa3 Zung1sam1) of San Francisco, California, United States, is a major community-based, non-profit organization established in 1965 as the operations center of the Chinese Culture Foundation.

While the CCC’s activities have shifted focus throughout its existence, the center is currently known for its contemporary art exhibitions and interventions, under the vestige of the CCC Visual Arts Center, as well as its radical, social justice education initiatives, under the vestige of the Him Mark Lai Learning Center.

The Center’s address is 750 Kearny Street, #3, San Francisco, CA, 94108.

Mission and overview[edit]

According to the CCC mission statement, the organization "elevates underserved communities and gives voice to equality through education and contemporary art."

The facilities of the Center, totaling 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2), include a 299-seat auditorium, a 2,935-square-foot (272.7 m2) gallery, a gallery shop, classroom, and offices. Centrally located between Chinatown and the Financial District, the Center attracts a broad spectrum of contemporary arts and activist audiences from the Chinatown community, the city at large, the greater Bay Area, nationwide, as well as across the world due to its global art connections. CCC has a reach of more than 165,000 individuals yearly.

The current Executive Director is Mabel Teng, former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and former City Accessor-Recorder.


Founding and building[edit]

The Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco is one of the earliest Chinese community cultural organizations founded in the United States in the post-World War II era.

The city government put up city-owned land that formerly housed the Hall of Justice for sale. As a compromise, founder J.K. Choy struck a deal with the developer for a 20,000 square foot facility dedicated to community cultural activities.

The Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco incorporated on October 15, 1965. Another compromise led to the modification of the planned Portsmouth Square Pedestrian Bridge to accommodate the future activities. Holiday Inn was completed in January 1971, while the bridge was completed in August 1971. After some political tensions between CCF and the heavily Nationalist majority faction in Chinatown, work began on the Chinese Culture Center facilities on January 27, 1973.

Beginning operations[edit]

Early activities were marked by a desire to be non-controversial and non-political because of tense Taiwanese-PRC relations and factions within Chinatown.

The Center began hosting workshops and classes on Mandarin language, folklore, martial arts, music, painting and calligraphy, crafts, drama, dance, and shadow play. It also held celebrations of the Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival and was instrumental in presenting outstanding Chinese artists and talent to new, American audiences. Docent-guided tours of Chinatown began in 1974.

From the very beginning, CCC began to achieve national prominence for its highly popular arts programs, historical and modern, some coordinated with local major museums, such as the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

'80s and '90s[edit]

1989, CCC received a grant to implement the annual program, In Search of Roots. Each year, ten American-born Chinese youth interns who wished to trace their ancestries to the Pearl River Delta, under CCC guidance, researched their family histories, visited their ancestral villages, and contributed findings to an annual CCC exhibit.

Following relaxation of US-PRC relations, CCC began sponsoring well-received public lectures on Chinese arts and culture by renowned scholars. After the Chinese economic reform and democracy in the Republic of China on Taiwan, the Two Chinas became less hostile, so older Chinatown organizations began to cooperate with the Chinese Culture Center in the 1990s.[1]

Present Era[edit]

With the hire of Abby Chen as Program Director in 2008, the Chinese Culture Center began to focus solely on contemporary art, an initiative rebranded as the CCC Visual Arts Center, to widespread, international acclaim. The Center began publishing catalogues of its exhibitions for sale and archival purposes for renowned archives such as Asia Art Archive.

The hire of Mabel Teng in 2009 fashioned strong ties between CCC and local Chinatown community and citywide governmental entities.

CCC’s education initiative was dedicated as the Him Mark Lai Learning Center in 2013.

Focusing on community-based, socially-engaged art interventions, in 2013, CCC opened 41 Ross, a pop-up art gallery space in historic Ross Alley that promotes dialogue amongst artists and local residents. 41 Ross is operated in partnership with the Chinatown Community Development Center.

CCC’s public artwork, Sky Bridge, was honored as the "Best Public Art" of 2015 by KQED.

In 2016, the Portsmouth Square Pedestrian Bridge was dedicated as the Rolland Lowe Bridge in honor of the Lowe family's patronage and strong support of CCC.

Current arts programs[edit]


In the CCC Visual Arts Center, CCC has produced over 100 quarterly, rotating gallery exhibitions of various styles, media, and modalities.

These exhibitions are centered on the XianRui 鮮銳 Artist Excellence Series (also known as "Fresharp") curated by Abby Chen. XianRui鮮銳 is an award-based solo exhibition that rewards innovative, mid-career, contemporary Chinese and Chinese-American artists.

XianRui鮮銳 has notably included:

  • Beili Liu’s Lure (2008): A series of installations of thousands of hand-coiled disks of red thread suspended from the ceiling, borrowing from the ancient Chinese legend of The Red Thread.
  • Stella Zhang’s 0 Viewpoint (2010): Sculptural, monochromatic installations and sculptures exploring femininity, sexuality, and nationality.
  • Zheng Chongbin’s White Ink (2011): Fifteen new and site-specific large scale abstract ink paintings and video projections, innovating traditional Chinese ink painting.
  • Summer Mei Ling Lee’s Into the Nearness of Distance (2014): Experimental installation exploring and transcending complications of inter- and counter-relationships.

Especially notable is WOMEN我們, an exhibition curated by Abby Chen that examines feminist, queer, and gender-expansive arts-activism in contemporary China. A traveling exhibition, WOMEN我們 opened in Shanghai in 2011, came to the CCC Visual Arts Center in 2012, and was exhibited in Miami in 2013.

CCC’s other exhibitions series include Episode, which invites guest curators and artists to expand CCC’s programmatic rhetoric, as well as Present Tense, which gives platform to young, emerging artists.

Site-based art[edit]

CCC’s recent initiatives focus on community-based arts in the form of public artworks as well as arts-based interventions. Much of this site-based art is rooted in 41 Ross, CCC's pop-up, collaborative art space that opened in 2013.

Notable public arts include:

  • Central Subway Public Art Project (2013): A collection of murals by Justin Hoover in Wentworth Alley.
  • Sky Bridge (2015): A temporary public artwork by Beili Liu consisting of 50,000 pieces of reflective mylar epoxied to the Lowe Pedestrian Bridge to reflect the sky.
  • St. Mary’s Square (TBD): An application-based, community-juried art installation in St. Mary’s Square.

Notable arts-based interventions include:

  • Occupy Shanghai Subway (2012): A public intervention in which feminist activists donned artworks from WOMEN我們 and held signs in the subway to protest sexual harassment.
  • San Francisco Chinatown Keywords School (2013): A socially-engaged art project and relational aesthetics work by internationally renowned artist, Xu Tan. Public space is transformed into a workshop for youth to collect, explore, and create "key words" via artistic analysis and creation.
  • Sunrise (2016): A space-based intervention that transforms the Rolland Lowe Pedestrian Bridge into a park with landscape design and a mosaic by Mik Gaspay.

Current education and engagement programs[edit]

CCC’s education initiative was dedicated as the Him Mark Lai Learning Center in 2013, serving as the hub for its tours, both Chinatown Walking Tours and Roots Excursions, as well as lectures, rebranded as Thought Leader Seminars.


Docent-led Chinatown Walking Tours are aimed towards tourists, activists, as well as school groups, locally and nationally. Current tours include:

  • From Dynasty to Democracy Walk: Social justice-oriented tour that reconciles Chinatown activism history beginning in the 1800s with civil rights movements at large.
  • Art Walk: Highlights both historical and contemporary community-based arts and culture in Chinatown.

California Roots Excursions, reimagining the original program, In Search of Roots, explores Chinese American migration history. Current excursions include:

  • Roots Excursion to Locke: Tour of Locke, one of the few remaining Chinese communities out of hundreds that existed.
  • Roots Excursion to Monterey: Tour of Monterey where Chinese families landed in the 1850s to create the abalone and squid industry.

Thought Leader Seminars[edit]

CCC’s Thought Leader Seminars invite scholars, artists, and activists for public lectures that expound upon the organization's educational and artistic programs. Recent seminar leaders include Timmy Yip, Gordon H. Chang, Yu Xinqiao, and Elizabeth Sinn.


CCC has also continued to put on festivals for citywide audiences and Chinatown residents, activating Chinatown with political and artistic consciousness by inviting local artists to intervene in local spaces. These include the Chinatown Music Festival in late summer, the Spring Festival in the spring, and Dancing on Waverly in early fall.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]