Chinatown, NY has a reputation of being an immigrant community. For many residents, the neighborhood is a transitory dwelling place until they can find a home in a more upscale neighborhood. For H.T. Chen, a native of Shanghai but a New Yorker for over thirty years, and Dian Dong, a New Yorker by birth, Chinatown means much more. Chinatown has become their home away from home as they relentlessly work to make it a welcoming abode for all. As the Artistic Director (Chen) and Associate Director (Dong) of Chen Dance Center (CDC), which includes H.T. Chen & Dancers, a professional, touring modern dance company, a year-round school for children, teens, and adults, and a theater which helps emerging artists cultivate new audiences, the pair is a dynamic yet busy twosome. Despite their holiday season filled with overseeing an educational program their company offers for hundreds of schoolchildren, Nutcracker performances for their own CDC school children, the daily grind of running a thirty-year old non-profit arts organization, and their own hectic holiday lives, the pair has still found time to search for additional ways to benefit their community.
This past week, Chen and Dong held a kick-off celebration outside of their building, 70 Mulberry Street, for a new volunteer-based initiative called Blossoming Corner Project. The project will place planters filled with lush flowers and trees around the exterior of their building on the corner of Mulberry & Bayard Streets. The idea is really centered on giving back to the community, working to beautify and green Chinatown and to get the community excited and engaged with improving their own environment.
In addition to providing beauty along Mulberry and Bayard Streets, the planters also demonstrate the greening and care of the neighborhood while exemplifying the Chinese character. As a largely agricultural society, China has prided itself on poems, literature and artwork celebrating man and nature. But in this inner city environment, Chinatown residents have no opportunity to enjoy gardening. Chen and Dong are working to ensure that this soon changes, finding community members to participate in caring for the plants and giving them a role in beautifying their community. Volunteers, including members of NY Chinatown Senior Citizen Center, which is housed in the same building as CDC, will become active caregivers. They hope that the planters will provide a welcoming atmosphere to visitors as well as make the neighborhood a well-respected and green home for Chinatown residents, enticing many to stay for longer than planned in this downtown cultural gem and urging them to become active participants in their own community.
Chen and Dong have spent a great deal of the last thirty years on tour with their company, planting different seeds, artistic seeds, all over the globe. They value the significance of the arts and believe every community should have abundant creative resources. Blossoming Corner Project is just an extension from this life-long work of cultivating seeds. This project is allowing them to plant seeds in their own community in Chinatown. Inside the doors of 70 Mulberry Street, they sow seeds for the arts everyday among young children, teens, and even emerging artists. Outside of the doors is no exception to their mission. Once again, they sow seeds planted with love for others to enjoy and grow.
Chen and Dong’s continued dedication to Chinatown paired with the respect that they have earned from their peers over the years has helped them to gather the support of many other local and prominent Chinatown organizations, including Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation. At the kick-off celebration, Mulberry and Bayard Streets were abuzz with excitement as passer-bys stopped to view the new colorful addition to this heavily-trafficked corner. Chen and Dong have given their community a reason to stay home for the holidays and will make residents proud year-round of their new green and clean community.