Chopsticks Alley Art bridges communities

San Jose Museum of Art features Chopsticks Alley’s “Ap U” Exhibit
San Jose Museum of Art features Chopsticks Alley’s “Ap U” Exhibit

Trami Cron’s family fled Vietnam for France when she was a child. She remembers the overwhelming feeling of not speaking the language — and the time a family friend took her to an art class. “I was able to just be — language didn’t matter,” said Cron, who today is executive artistic director of Chopsticks Alley Art.

The idea that art can bridge communication gaps is central to her work with Chopsticks Alley Art, which highlights Southeast Asian art and artists through exhibits, classes and cultural events.

“We bridge communities by bringing our art and culture to the mainstream in an approachable, nonthreatening way,” Cron said.

A recent Arts & Culture Community Action Grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Community Catalyst Fund will help Chopsticks Alley Art expand its programs.

The Arts & Culture grants are part of SVCF’s long-term strategy to achieve systemic change in Silicon Valley by addressing disparities in both funding and influence that have left BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities and undocumented communities with inequitable roles in shaping the region’s future.

The goal of these grants is to strengthen community organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the arts and to promote learning, collaboration and innovation, said Mauricio Palma, director of community building for SVCF. The grants target organizations working at the intersection of arts, culture and community building.

“These organizations have been able to create spaces that didn’t exist before,” Palma said.

Helping Smaller Organizations Grow

Chopsticks Alley hosts an outdoor showing of “BioQuilts” with Vietnamese Elders Chopsticks Alley hosts an outdoor showing of “BioQuilts” with Vietnamese Elders

Grants of up to $30,000 were made available to nonprofits serving Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, with priority given to organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color and allies, and those with annual budgets under $1 million.

The grant to Chopsticks Alley is for general operating support, which Cron said is especially helpful. “It helps us pay our bookkeeper and the internet bill — things we can’t write a grant for but that are absolutely necessary,” she said.

Cron also appreciated the focus on smaller organizations.

“Sometimes what happens is they base it on revenue — the larger the revenue, the larger the money you receive,”Cron said. “If we continue this model, we will forever keep small organizations small, and they tend to be from communities of color.”

The Importance of Building Understanding

The grant comes at a critical time for the Asian American community.

“We’re facing a formidable challenge with the rise in discrimination toward Asian Americans,” Cron said. “The work that we do is more critical now than ever. It’s about awareness, to share a narrative. We believe if you understand each other, then you can be more kind to each other.”

Chopsticks Alley works to build that type of understanding by offering art workshops with a Southeast Asian twist. “If we’re teaching basic drawing, we will teach them to draw dragons, turtles and other symbols that mean something in Southeast Asian culture,” Cron said.

The classes also help bridge the older and younger generations, she said. For example, they might have a younger teacher work with a class of elders: “That’s how we engage both of them in conversation with the other.”

The grant from SVCF will help the group offer more classes and send out more art kits to students learning virtually. They will also be able to give students a book scheduled to be published in June, ARTventure Down the Mekong. The book will include art lessons from eight Southeast Asian countries. For example, the chapter on Laos, which is known for textile weaving, includes a paper weaving project.

Another of the group’s projects, CreativiTEA Open Mic, allows Asian artists of all genres to share their work, whether that's reading poetry, showing visual art and more. The monthly event is currently virtual and is meant to help artists build camaraderie. The grant money will allow the artists to be paid for their time.

SVCF is proud to support the work of Chopsticks Alley Art, and believes the connections facilitated by arts organizations can help build civic engagement. “Arts are perceived as something detached from the urgencies of our democracy,” Palma said.“But I would say they are just another vehicle. These organizations have been able to make a difference.”

Learn more about SVCF's Arts and Culture Community Action Grant program and our grantees here.

Learn more about how SVCF is honoring AAPI Heritage Month here.

Chopsticks Alley hosts a virtual art exhibit, “Fragments”
Chopsticks Alley hosts a virtual art exhibit, “Fragments”