JamFest 2023 Revitalizes Historic CID Alleyways through Community Art and Joy
By Gurjot Kang
Edited by Marian Mohamed
Hundreds came out to attend the annual JamFest celebration in the Chinatown-International District on July 13, 2023. (Photo/Grant Vu)
Held in the historic Canton and Maynard Alleys, JamFest, the free, all ages summer festival celebrating life, culture, and art in the Chinatown-International District (CID), returned this year with a roster of talented BIPOC performers and artists, on July 13 from 5 to 8 p.m.
With live music, dance showcases including cabaret, and plenty of fun games and entertainment for friends and family, JamFest 2023 revitalized the CID alleyways with music and merriment.
JamFest 2023 included plenty of fun games and activities for friends and family. (Photos/Grant Vu)
The annual festival, first established in 2010, is hosted by the Wing Luke Museum; the only pan-Asian Pacific American community-based museum in the U.S. dedicated to sharing the stories of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders through culture, art, and history.
Hundreds of people turned out for this year’s festival in the historic alleyways. In the Canton Alley, a cabaret show featuring performances from The Shanghai Pearl, Tracey Wong, Viper Fengz, Pinay Grigio, and Rowan Ruthless entranced audiences.
The performers from the cabaret show pose for the cameras at JamFest 2023. From the top, left to right, featured in this photo are The Shanghai Pearl, Rowan Ruthless, Viper Fengz, Tracey Wong, and Pinay Grigio. (Photo/Grant Vu)
The festival also featured the iconic drag artist S A M who ventured into both alleys in their vibrant jellyfish drag costume to interact and take photos with guests. After the beautiful showcase of dance and drag, up next came two high energy acts from local bands, P.O. Boxx and Lemon Boy.
P.O. Boxx performed for the crowd at JamFest on July 13, 2023. (Photos/Jonny Tran)
While P.O. Boxx got the crowd grooving with their eclectic sound, Lemon Boy, the all-female pop punk girl band of three, delivered a stellar set full of original songs and unique renditions of classic favorites, such as “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways and “Toxic” by Britney Spears.
Lemon Boy, featuring Nicole on bass, Myriah on drums, and Yaz on guitar, performed in Canton Alley at JamFest on July 13, 2023. (Photo/Grant Vu)
But the performances didn’t stop just there, the festivities continued in the adjacent Maynard Alley with notable appearances from talented cellist Gretchen Yanover, the non-profit The Rhapsody Project, classical South Asian dancer Sravya Ganti, and indie musical artist Chiku Neni.
Sravya Ganti performed Bharatanatyam at JamFest on July 13, 2023. (Photos/Grant Vu)
In a beautiful celebration of culture and dance, Sravya Ganti wowed attendees with her graceful performance of the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam. Ganti is part of “From Within Academy,” a dance school that specializes in sharing Bharatanatyam instruction through professional performances.
Throughout the evening, the musical jams kept coming with DJing in both alleys with DJ Zag, DJ Basil, and DJ Yung Barong & Friends. In addition to an exciting lineup of performances, the alleys were packed with informational tables, featuring plenty of fun activities, put on by different community organizations.
Attendees visiting the various tables and booths at the event had the chance to learn more about the impactful work of local organizations dedicated to supporting BIPOC communities in the area and how to get involved. Among the organizations in attendance were CID Vision Group, Chinese American Legacy Artwork Project, Make Us Visible, Sun May Company, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Asian Trans Sisters, Pan-Asian Mahjong Club, YouthCAN, and more.
Attendees stop to check out all the various organizations tabling at JamFest 2023. (Photo/Jonny Tran)
At a table from YouthCAN, plenty of visitors stopped by to create custom letterpress prints. YouthCAN is the Wing Luke Museum’s free, afterschool arts program for teens, ages 13 to 19. During the program, students explore topics relating to identity and culture through art and even have a chance to show their work in a group exhibit at the museum’s Frank Fujii Youth Gallery. The program for high schoolers includes lessons and support from teaching artists, with the goal to provide youth more opportunities to explore paths in the arts and learn about the history and culture of the CID and the museum. At the YouthCAN table during JamFest, visitors also had the opportunity to support youth artists by purchasing prints, in addition to learning more about the program.
The GZR News crew got to talk to one of the youth artists from YouthCAN, Mina Huynh, during the festival.
Huynh, who joined the program earlier this spring, learned about the art of screen printing through the YouthCAN workshop series, “Resistance At Home.” This six-week workshop series explored the histories and struggles of various communities residing within the CID and the role art plays in social movements. The workshops were taught by a group of teaching artists from “Flower Flower,” a community of queer and trans Pasifika and Asian creatives building cultural spaces that welcome healing and growth. In addition to the knowledge such experiences provide, youth in the program often leave with a newfound sense of artistic exploration and creative expression.
“We use the knowledge we learn off of printing and then we made our own projects,” shared Huynh. “We did open studios where we made our own work and…now it’s like in the Frank Fujii Exhibit. All of our work is displayed there right now.”
Close-up of the printing process at the YouthCAN table on July 13, 2023. (Photo/GZR)
During JamFest, Huynh enthusiastically assisted attendees with screen printing alongside artist/activist Erin Shigaki, also known as “purplegat3.”
For her fellow youth artists, Huynh has a message.
“Don’t be afraid to get out there and sign up for things because they will bring you to a lot of good opportunities that are really fun—like this is so fun,” said Hunyh with a grin.
After the cabaret show in the Canton Alley, the GZR News crew caught up with one of the evening’s performers, Tracey Wong. Wong was one of the performers featured in the cabaret lineup curated by The Shanghai Pearl.
Wong is a local dance artist who teaches the dance style of Whacking or Waacking, and a class called “Honey n Sensualitea” on empowerment and tapping into your senses and sensuality, at The Beacon: Massive Monkees Studio. Wong is also the co-director and co-founder of Malicious Vixens, a Seattle-based dance collective and sisterhood of Asian American women.
“It was so much fun to perform and it was very meaningful. It always means something to perform in the CID because so much of my memories are rooted here,” said Wong. “And it's just my people, my community, and it's beautiful to see all of us together—the elders, the next generation, all of my friends gathering together.”
Dance artist Tracey Wong in an interview with GZR News. (Photo/GZR)
For Wong, it’s inspiring to see how JamFest has revitalized and brought so much joy to the Canton and Maynard Alleys. She notes the significance of events, like this, that center the neighborhood and allow community members to celebrate art and life in a safe space.
Wong pictured dancing at JamFest on July 13, 2023. (Photo/Jonny Tran)
For BIPOC performers and artists, like Wong, returning to the CID for such events brings up a myriad of feelings related to community, family and belonging.
“Everyone deserves a home and to feel like they belong somewhere. And if I didn’t have this community, I would feel so lost,” shared Wong. “And I love coming here almost every single day and seeing someone that I know in the streets and saying ‘what’s up’ to them…knowing that we have our own space here.”
From the local artists performing to the organizations tabling, it’s clear that community is at the heart of what makes JamFest such a staple in the CID. For many, JamFest is a unique opportunity to feel and be seen.
“Building trust is so important. Being able to be honest and have a place where you can share honestly, from your heart, is so important because that's when you feel seen,” said Wong. “And when you are seen by community, you have more space to also see others.”