MOCA On The Move: Creating A National Museum

Since its founding in 1980, The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has been dedicated to reclaiming, preserving, and presenting the history and culture of Chinese people in the United States.  Its unique collections, innovative exhibitions, education and public programs, and community initiatives have earned it a strong reputation among museums and audiences alike. MOCA’s rise also has been fueled by its ability to grow in tandem with the country’s dynamic Chinese American community, particularly in New York City, where the Chinese American population has grown by nearly 100% since 1990.



Now, public understanding of the Chinese American experience is more relevant and important than ever before.  Despite China’s increasing prominence in the global economy, as well as the rise in numbers and eminence of Chinese Americans, many Americans – including those of Chinese descent – remain unaware of the diversity of the culture and complex history of more than 160 years of the Chinese in the United States.  With a demonstrated record of sharing and interpreting the story of the Chinese in America, MOCA is poised to be an articulate and passionate voice in filling that void.  To become the national Chinese American museum, MOCA must guide a broader dialogue among Chinese Americans and the general public, while serving as a crossroads for people from many cultures, backgrounds, and generations.

A greatly expanded, architecturally significant new home is needed to bring the MOCA experience to a larger audience and to expand its cultural contributions to the national stage. In 2009, MOCA moved into such a space, at 215 Centre Street, situated between Chinatown and SoHo.  The stunning new site – designed by long-time supporter and renowned artist/designer Maya Lin – increases the Museum’s total size six-fold (when combined with MOCA’s previous space) and enables it to serve as a national center, presenting the Chinese American experience as an integral part of the American story.  It honors the memories, struggles, contributions and legacies of Chinese Americans, helping to bridge the old and the new, the past and the present.  

MOCA’s institutional expansion is twofold.  First, the Museum has moved to a new, larger space with capacity for increased visitors and a fuller exhibition and program schedule.  The new site includes multiple exhibition galleries, interactive visitor kiosks, a multi-purpose auditorium/classroom, research center, and a flexible space for various multidisciplinary public programs.  Second, the Museum will grow beyond its physical walls and launch a new institutional website that will forge a strong online presence and connect MOCA with individuals throughout the country – and around the world.  On-site, audiences have access to fresh, innovative exhibits and culturally rich programs, including interactive educational opportunities for families, children and school groups. Online, the general public, students, educators, and scholars alike will find a host of features, such as Web-based versions of gallery exhibitions (including the new core exhibit, The Chinese American Experience); a comprehensive, interactive timeline of Chinese American history; and downloadable resources on topics such as immigration and diversity.  The new MOCA engages people locally, regionally and globally to learn about history, share their own stories, and explore or contribute to the evolving story of Chinese in America.

In addition, MOCA’s vast collections – of more than 60,000 letters and documents, business and organizational records, oral histories, clothing and textiles, photographs, and precious artifacts – will be digitized and made available online for the first time, further increasing the Museum’s capacity to share and lend its resources. This digital feature will facilitate MOCA’s ability to continually collect new materials, oral histories, and scholarship from around the world.

MOCA stands on the threshold of a significant, new era: one that will witness its transformation from a long-standing community institution into a national museum in a world-class facility.  Freed from current space limitations, with a dramatic new design, compelling exhibitions and expanded programming, MOCA's online footprint, press mentions, onsite visitors, and social media presence have grown substantially over the last few years to over 5 milli; hundreds of thousands more are expected to be reached through online features.  The new MOCA reflects and magnifies the caliber of its work, while empowering its vision and role in interpreting the Chinese American experience to grow for many years to come.