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(Left to Right) Gracelynn Wan, Ania Wu, and Nathan Li are three of fourteen projects who received the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander artist grants from the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation. (Photo from Gracelynn Wan, Ania Wu, and Nathan Li)

The Sachs Program for Arts Innovation has announced the recipients of its Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander artist grants.

A total of 14 projects received the grant funding and are made up of a diverse range of mediums such as visual art, children’s literature, and performance art. The recipients of the funding include five individual students, four Penn alumni, three staff members, one faculty member, and one student group. Grants range from $250 to $25,000 and must support endeavors to teach, make, and present art, according to the program.

The Sachs Program’s purpose is to support the arts, humanities, and creative expression across Penn’s twelve schools. The program provides strategic support and financially funds artists, faculty, students, cultural centers, and other art advocates at Penn. 

Gracelynn Wan, a rising senior in the College majoring in Fine Arts, received a grant to paint a mural in the children’s space at the Walnut Street West location of the Free Library of Philadelphia. She originally created designs for a mural as part of a mural arts class she took in the spring of 2019.

“When the grant came out, it felt so timely, because it wasn't a project that I thought I would really get the chance to do,” Wan said. “But when this summer rolled around, and I was thinking about what I want to spend my summer doing, I was like, I would really like to make this a reality, except I have no funding and I don't know if they'll take me. And I don't know if the library will even be open or if anyone would be interested in this project.”

While speaking to Wan, a librarian at the children’s space emphasized that the library serves a multicultural community of children, leading Wan to focus her designs on empowerment, diversity, and representation. Wan created four designs that she is considering for her mural.

Wan’s mockup of her project which is a mural to be painted at Walnut Street West Public Library. (Photo from Gracelynn Wan)

“I had one design, where it was like a big Hello mural with ‘Hello’ in a couple different languages and like four different kids just trying to depict just a wide range of diverse cultures,” Wan said “And then another sort of mural that says, 'I think everyone deserves love,' and also just a bunch of kids.”

Ania Vu is another grant recipient and is beginning the fifth year of her Ph.D in Music Composition. She started working on her dissertation — an opera that explores different philosophical themes — last year. For her project funded by the Sachs Program, she is composing an opera.

“There were also themes that I was interested in already, like the role of time,” Vu said. “[And] some philosophical questions about how much choice does one have in their life? How are everyday choices feeding us in a certain path in life?”

Vu will also be writing the libretto — the text — of the opera. She said that it will be her first time writing all the words in English. She is also collaborating with a friend who works in graphic design to create visuals and animations for the background of the opera.

Some grant recipients expressed that being an arts student and a minority at Penn can be isolating.

“A career in the arts doesn't necessarily follow timelines that are supposed to happen for business or comp sci or any other of the slightly larger majors. And there's this feeling that like, whatever I choose to do, or projects I want to do, whatever career I want to pursue, I kind of have to figure it out myself,” Wan said.

Students also acknowledged that the Sachs Program helps by supporting students of color who are pursuing art degrees through outreach and amplifying diverse voices. The Hub@Penn page for the Sachs Program website states that the program works to support a "creative, culturally diverse, and pluralistic Penn community."

“I think organizations like the Sachs Program for Innovation are really trying to breach this gap, trying to let students know that there are some resources out there, there are people out there and this applies especially in Philly at large," Wan said.

Nathan Li, a recent MFA graduate who received funding from the Sachs Program to create a sculpture, said that "the most important value of the Sachs Program" is its emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

“It's really inspiring that Sachs supported AAPI artists [in] their products and their projects,” Li said. 

The sculpture that Li will be creating explores the normalization of violence. His piece is based on crowd control tools used in China and is influenced by the work of artist Marcel Duchamp, citing Duchamp’s piece "The Bottle Rack" as an inspiration.

“There's a god in Buddhism who had one thousand hands,” Li explained. “In Buddhism [those] one thousand hands means an infinite power of kindness. So I think the form of 'The Bottle Rack' provided me [with] the concept of this Buddhism. And ironically, the violence in our daily life is also endless. So I think through these three [ideas] I can alert the audience of the spreading of violence.”

Li has been engaged with the Sachs Program since he started the MFA program at Penn and is currently on a Sachs Research trip in Puerto Rico that investigates colonialism.

Students also praised the inclusion of international students in the grant funding program. Vu, who was born and raised in Poland, stated that as an international student, it can be hard to find opportunities for funding and that this grant opportunity was “refreshing.”

“I know speaking for myself, and also for some other international composers, there are a lot of opportunities in the US, but some of them are open to anyone, and some of them are only open to us citizens,” Vu explained. “It can be a little bit limiting sometimes.”

Grant recipients were overall pleased and excited for the opportunity to expand on Penn's cultural diversity through their projects.

“I think this is the main resource for us to get a chance, not only to show our diversity, [but] also as a way to engage or to help the school build a more friendly and welcoming environment," Vu said.