Purpose and History
A core purpose of the Portland Chinatown Museum is to collect, preserve and interpret the histories of Portland’s Old and New Chinatowns through two- and three-dimensional objects and art, and through oral histories and photographs gathered from individuals, families, businesses and organizations connected to Portland’s Chinatowns. Since acquiring the Old Town History Project’s oral history collection in 2013, we have continued to record and collect oral histories and photographs from community elders. With future funding, we hope to expand and to digitize the Museum’s Chinatown oral history and photograph collection and to make them accessible to the Chinese American community and the public online.
The Museum began to assemble a permanent collection in 2016 when the Board signed a lease and option to purchase the Kida Building to renovate a portion of the building for the new museum and its permanent Beyond the Gate exhibition. The Board hired the Museum’s first Collections Manager to oversee the professional housing, care, and security of objects acquired for the permanent exhibition. An agreement with the new City of Portland Archives and Record Center has allowed the Museum to house its collection of rare art and artifacts in a spacious, fully climate-controlled and secure space on the Portland State University campus. The agreement continues for objects in the permanent collection not currently on view, but available as replacements for the Beyond the Gate exhibition and for other major exhibitions to come.
PCM believes that historic everyday three-dimensional objects are powerful educational resources and tools. This philosophy may conflict with those of conservation advocates whose purpose is to extend the life of what remains of our teachable past. We are fortunate to be able to strike a balance between objects accessioned as part of our permanent collection and destined for occasional display in controlled spaces, and those which can be observed at close range, and with care, handled and touched. The objects in our Teaching Collection include those which have already been damaged, are significantly flawed, are easy to acquire or duplicate, or so significant culturally that their very use is what is important. A good example of the latter is the 150 foot cloth dragon given to the Museum by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in 2017. A gift from the government of Taiwan for the dedication of the China Gate in 1987, by 2017 it had not been danced for 40 or 50 years. The Museum’s revival of the annual Lunar New Year Dragon Dance in Chinatown may be one of its most important contributions to the continuing vitality of Portland’s historic Chinatowns.
Top image: High school graduation celebration c. 1949. Photo courtesy of Patsy Fong Lee.