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  • Writer's pictureMaylea Saito

Hidden Histories Exhibit and Walking Tours at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose

Photos by Curt Fukuda

Hidden Histories of San Jose Japantown is an experimental community public art project that utilizes augmented reality (AR) art to illustrate the histories of Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese communities that make up Japantown today. I had the honor of starting my involvement in this project as a commissioned artist beginning in March 2020, where I was one out of nine selected artists to develop interactive AR installations that would be placed around Japantown. After the initial launch and takedown of the exhibit at Art Object Gallery during Summer 2021, I was approached to be a part of the Hidden Histories staff as an Interim Project Coordinator, commissioned by the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj). With this role, one of my first responsibilities was to design and layout new display assets for the exhibit's relocation at JAMsj.

Task: Design four main description panels, one instructional banner, and an assortment of small informational signs to direct guests through the exhibit space and teach them about the project, Japantown's history, the project's commissioned artists, and their works. All collateral was to follow the established Hidden Histories style guidelines, utilize provided graphics and text, and compliment a series of walking tours for guests to engage with the AR art installations around Japantown.

Timeframe: August 10th through 30th, 20 days.

Mockup of main description panels

Instructional banner

Process and challenges: Our small staff team of seven was working with a limited exhibit space at JAMsj compared to the multiple rooms of the previous gallery. I had to consider how to facilitate museum visitors through six sections of the exhibit within a single room as well as design instructional material that can be easily understood by people unfamiliar with AR.

The exhibit was open from September 21st, 2021 to January 15th, 2022. During this exhibit run, I also organized and curated a series of walking tours designed for a diverse array of museum visitors, that included Japanese American elders, tech enthusiasts, local politicians, K-12 students, college educators, neighborhood residents, and out-of-town visitors. These tours integrated a pre-tour icebreaker and post-tour reflection circle that allowed us to gauge interest and gather feedback in a fun and engaging way. Participants would start a tour by sharing one-word associations with San Jose's Japantown and what brought them on this tour. They would then end the tour by going around and sharing one take-away.

Through the feedback we received, I was able to adjust and add visuals to the exhibit space in a way to further support guests' technical understanding of the AR art as well as enhance their overall experience of going through the walking tour and exhibit space. Towards the latter half of the exhibit's run, we implemented an additional interactive element where guests were able to add their take-aways directly to our "quote wall", which included display panels featuring statements from Japantown community leaders (designed by Sue Kanagawa Yuen).

Museum guests add their own take-aways

Community Impact: During my time as Interim Project Coordinator with Hidden Histories and JAMsj, I was able to help design a museum exhibit and walking tour series that engaged participants in a dialogue of intergenerational reflections, cultural preservation, and our relationships to physical places as they change over time. With the direct feedback we have gotten through the run of the exhibit, I believe that our execution was a success in spreading awareness of the Japantown's multifaceted history as well as the importance of preserving historic and cultural neighborhoods like Japantown San Jose. We facilitated a total of over 15 weekly walking tours that engaged a total of over 270 museum visitors and tour participants from September 21st to January 15th, 2022.

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