Get to know Melissa Liu, our Development & Communications Coordinator:
How did you get connected with The LP?
I moved to New York City exactly four years ago, about a month before Hurricane Sandy and have lived in Harlem since then. Sometime within my first year of living here, I walked past the Laundry room at 116th and AC Powell, which has “Wash clothes. Make art. Build community.” drawn on a window pane with colorful images, next to another pane that has the contact info for The LP. I was intrigued by what I had seen so I visited The LP’s website when I got home later that day, which led me to signing up as a volunteer. A few months later, I found myself volunteering for the 2013 Public Art Potluck, and since then have remained connected with the LP, now as a full-time staff member!
How has The LP changed the way you look at / think about art?
The LP has had a profound impact on how I look at and think about art. I have studied art history since high school, for almost a decade. Before I learned about The LP and the way its artists work within communities, most of what I knew of art and art history was from the critical dialogues and perspectives generated through academia and major arts institutions, which have been heavily influenced by western Eurocentric traditions and hegemony. On and off throughout my college experience, I felt disconnected from the “art world” because most of the art and ideas around art that I had encountered didn’t resonate or respond to issues that communities and people close to me were facing in our everyday lives, such as identity politics and economic issues brought about by the 2008 recession. When I started volunteering with The Laundromat Project after I finished college, I realized that what our society considers as art worth writing and talking about is relative and that we can expand our notions of what is considered as art and creativity. I am inspired everyday by how The LP’s mission and values humanize the experience of art so it is accessible to anyone, while making creativity an essential skill to solving the pressing problems we face in society today.
Do you have your own creative practice?
I’ve had creative practices through photography, screenprinting, and theater, though not all are currently active since I graduated from college and became a full-time arts administrator. My current creative practice is cooking, which has always been an art to me since I was growing up. Through making and trying different cuisines, I have been able to reflect a lot about culture, identity, and socio-economic class, especially as an Chinese-American whose family and identity has been complicated by migration and the diaspora.
Please tell us about one of your favorite hobbies.
Thrifting, I love finding a good bargain! Also, I aspired to be a marine biologist as a child so to this day, I still love watching nature documentaries about our oceans and keeping up-to-date on the latest news about marine life and research.
Please tell us about an artist, curator, activist, or project that has inspired you.
Alfredo Santos, who was an artist and also happened to be a prisoner (for a non-violent offense) at San Quentin State Prison, one of California’s largest prisons. I don’t think he is still that well-known today, but one of his masterpieces is a series of 100-foot-long murals he painted of California’s history in the inmate cafeteria at San Quentin in 1953, which still exists to this day but is in disrepair from a lack of maintenance over the years. What inspires me most about Santos’ work is that it is one of the only examples of art that was made in a prison, and perhaps we could even say it was “commissioned” by the prison. I believe that everyone should have access to art in their everyday lives, and our incarcerated population, one of the largest in the world, is overlooked in terms of their access to art in addition to being deprived of basic human needs such as access to education and healthcare.
What are your dreams / ambitions for The LP?
For The LP to continue its work in supporting artists and communities of color to amplify their art and creativity. I hope The LP and other like-minded organizations and collectives can shift how art is documented, archived, and remembered. I don’t want people and future generations to forget the work that LP artists have realized and the impact that creativity has in enriching our communities, allowing us to embrace our identities, and building movements for change. I hope The LP will be successful in changing the art world discourse about how we decide who gets to be remembered as artists and pioneering creative thinkers.
What is your favorite…
I love ice cream and anything that’s Nutella flavored.
I don’t have a favorite but The Warriors comes to mind.
Book about art or social practice?
Hmm this is hard. Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power, and Culture by Craig Owens is one that I continue to go back to.
Where do you do your laundry?
Baby Girls’s Bubbles & Cleaners at 2212 Frederick Douglass Blvd. They are open 24-7, 7 days a week.
In your opinion, why does art matter?
I hope that one day, those of us who already value the arts will no longer have to fight hard to make the case that art matter. I think everyone should accept that art, just like education and nutrition, is essential to our lives as human beings. Like the sciences, it is fundamental to how we understand the world around us and how we approach the problem solving process. Harry Belafonte once said that “artists are the gatekeepers to truth,“ which to me summarizes the value of art in our society. Our experiences, perspectives, and identities are unique to every person, and art is the medium that allows us to communicate understanding despite our lived differences and language barriers.