The word "hapa" comes from the Hawaiian "hapa haole," originally a derogatory term meaning "half white". But today "hapa" has been embraced as a term of pride by a wide range of people whose mixed-race ancestry is part Asian or Pacific Islander.
Hapa-ness is spreading through American culture. There are hapa Web sites, hapa social clubs, hapa campus groups, hapa films, and hapa literature. There are well-known hapas, including golfer Tiger Woods, actor Keanu Reeves, musician Sean Lennon, and artist Kip Fulbeck.
"While the community is changing, we view the trend as an opportunity to share our programs with a significantly larger audience," says Irene Y. Hirano, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
For some older cultural institutions, this youthful, iconoclastic focus on everything hapa might be viewed as an unwelcome development, threatening established traditions. But not to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles, which has embraced the trend wholeheartedly.
The museum recently sponsored a photographic exhibit by Fulbeck, a mixed-media artist who is chair of the UC Santa Barbara art department. Called "kip fulbeck: part asian, 100% hapa," the show captures the extraordinary diversity of mixed-race Asians, and illustrates how the perception of multiracial people has evolved from society's margins to its mainstream.
The museums welcoming approach makes perfect sense when you consider the shifting demographics of its audience. Nearly one-third of Japanese Americans are of mixed racial heritage, the largest such proportion among all major Asian ethnic groups, according to the 2000 census, which for the first time allowed individuals to select more than one category for their racial background. To the museums leadership, hapas represent its future.
But over the long term, this trend also poses some challenges for JANM and other culturally specific organizations. Traditionally, their role has been to preserve the history and art of non-European cultures and bring them into the American mainstream. Now that their community is less likely to identify with only one race or ethnicity, how do these institutions adapt?
As the leading U.S. museum focused on the Japanese American experience, JANM is uniquely suited to explore this question. Irene Y. Hirano, the museum's president and CEO, sees it as an exciting opportunity. "While the community is changing, we view the trend as an opportunity to share our programs with a significantly larger audience," Hirano said.
With a three-year, $800,000 grant from Irvine, the museum plans to develop a model for how culturally specific arts organizations can adapt to increasingly multiethnic audiences. It will involve studies to define the museum's audience and to look at how they identify with its traditional mission. Results will have implications for programming, audience development, and fundraising,
Ultimately, the museum's goal is to convene peer institutions and identify the most pressing challenges facing culturally specific arts and history organizations. It is largely uncharted territory, making the project both innovative and highly challenging, said Martha S. Campbell, Irvine's Vice President for Programs.
"What is so exciting about the project is that they are identifying the next wave of cultural programming," she said. "In the process, they have to re-examine some of their core beliefs and assumptions."
The grant is part of a larger initiative launched by Irvine this summer aimed at increasing the ability of premier California arts institutions to innovate in three areas: in artistic programming, in their interaction with the public in light of changing demographics, and in their organizational management.
The Artistic Innovation Fund, as the initiative is known, builds on Irvine's past support of major arts organizations in California. The fund will support four to seven organizations a year.
Campbell said that the fund is tapping into the creative sides of the state's major arts institutions, encouraging them to address larger trends, including demographic change, the role of technology, and the global context. One of the desired outcomes is solutions to issues that are vexing arts organizations nationally.
"Irvine wants to showcase the fact that California arts organizations are innovating, and that these innovations can be models for other organizations in the country," she said.
In addition to the Japanese American National Museum, this year's Artistic Innovation Fund grantees are:
- Armand Hammer Museum — A $700,000 grant to deepen the involvement of visual artists in all aspects of the museum's operations, including its governance and program decision-making.
- La Jolla Playhouse — A $700,000 grant to develop a series of multi-disciplinary, experimental works aimed at younger, more diverse and less affluent audiences, filling a gap left by the closure of smaller venues.
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art — A $900,000 grant to create a multimedia tour that extends the visitor's experience beyond the museum walls and allows the museum to capture information that will help guide future programming.
- Oakland Museum — A $700,000 grant to reinstall and interpret its permanent California Art exhibit to serve and attract a contemporary, multiethnic audience.
- San Diego Opera — A $600,000 grant to engage new audiences and deepen the participation of existing attendees.
- San Francisco Symphony — An $800,000 grant to extend its reach into Silicon Valley and cultivate new audiences among young professionals and families outside the city of San Francisco.