Robert Lee and Eleanor Yung Papers, Asian American Arts Centre Collection

Date Range: 19682001
Survey Conducted: Tue, 2011-01-25
Creator: Lee, Robert (b.1944) and Yung, Eleanor (b.1946); Asian American Arts Centre

History: Partners Robert Lee, an author and curator, and Eleanor Yung, a choreographer and acupuncturist, were both involved in establishing the Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC). In addition to the AAAC, Lee and Yung have held leadership roles in national and New York City-based Asian American cultural and political organizations, dedicating their careers to supporting Asian American artists and their work.

Born in 1944 in Newark, New Jersey, Lee attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It was at Rutgers that he met artist and historian Dr. George W. Weber, whose research on late Chou bronzes inspired Lee to explore the connections between Asian and American art, and the flow of art, culture, and philosophy between the two regions. In 1970, Lee moved to New York City where he studied art history at the City College of New York and became involved in Asian American community organizations, including Basement Workshop, where he and Yung met, and the Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC). Established by Yung in 1974 as the Asian American Dance Theatre (AADT), the AAAC is one of the oldest community arts organizations in Manhattan’s Chinatown. After the free art classes he had organized at the Chinatown Manpower Project lost funding in 1979, Lee reestablished them at AADT, expanding the scope of the organization’s programing to include the visual arts. In 1982, he founded the Asian American Artists’ Slide Archive at the AAAC (now the AAAC Artist Archive). The first archive to focus on Asian American artists in the United States, the AAAC Artist Archive makes approximately 10% of its collection available online. Lee’s curatorial credits include the exhibitions We Count! The State of Asian Pacific America (supported by Mayor Dinkins’ Office for Asian Affairs and LEAP Asian Pacific American Public Policy Institute), Ancestors (a joint effort with the Kenkeleba House), and Milieu III: Color in the Art of Natvar Bhavsar, VC Igarta, James Kuo, Ted Kurahara, Seong Moy, which was part of a research project entitled, Asian American Artists and Their Milieu: 1945 to 1965. From 1985-1993, Lee sat on the board of The Association of American Cultures (TAAC), a national advocacy organization committed to supporting diversity in the arts. In 1993, he served as the Board’s chair. As the current Executive Director of the AAAC, Lee continues to promote Asian American artists and their work through various programming and exhibition efforts.

Eleanor Yung was born in 1946 in Shanghai and grew up in Hong Kong, where she formally trained as a dancer. She moved to California in 1965 to attend the University of California, Berkeley as a sociology major. After graduating in 1969, Eleanor moved to New York City where she became involved in the arts and activist collective Basement Workshop, of which her brother Danny Yung was a seminal member. As one of the founding members herself, Yung incorporated the Workshop as a non-profit in 1970, and worked collaboratively to develop its dance programs. In New York, Yung received her M.A. in Dance Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1972, and served as the artistic director of the Asian American Dance Theatre (AADT) from 1974 to 1992. She strove to showcase her innovative choreography and that of other Asian American dancers and choreographers, while providing an outlet for traditional Asian performance. From 1976-1990, she organized an annual dance showcase, and, in 1978, began touring AADT nationally. Yung was one of the four Asian American choreographers who coordinated the Asian New Dance Coalition, which later evolved into D’Asia Vu, a performance series that illuminated the connections between Asian and American dance. In 1995, Yung, who had trained as an acupuncturist, began leading classes in nei-gung taichi, a form of tai chi taught by the late Master Ham King Koo. She continues to lead classes in the practice.

Sources: Asian American Arts Centre. “About Us.” Accessed February 3, 2015.

Asian/Pacific American Archives Survey. “Asian American Arts Centre Records.” Accessed February 3, 2015.

Lee, Robert and Eleanor Yung. Conversation with Daniel Kim and Amita Manghnani. Newark, New Jersey, January 25, 2011.

Who’s Who of Asian Americans. “Robert Lee.” Accessed February 3, 2015.

Wikipedia. “Asian American Dance Theatre.” Accessed February 3, 2015.

Summary: The Robert Lee and Eleanor Yung Papers measure approximately 1,746.5 linear feet and document the founding and early years of several Asian American arts organizations based in New York City including the Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) (formerly known as the Asian American Dance Theatre (AADT) and Asian Arts Institute (AAI)).

The majority of the collection is composed of artwork stored in crates measuring approximately 1,680 linear feet. Of note are 150 painted panels, which were displayed in AAAC’s traveling exhibition China: June 4, 1989, organized to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Other artworks included in this measurement are sculptures, paintings, and drawings by artists such as Santiago Bose, Edgar Heap of Birds, Byron Kim, Jinnie Seo, Joseph Goto, and Charles Yuen.

Of note and measuring 2.0 linear feet are materials related to Danny Yung’s Chinatown Study, completed between 1969-70 and supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. The materials include research notes, questionnaires completed by the study’s participants, newspaper articles (in English and Chinese), and scholarly articles on issues related to immigration. An additional 1.0 linear feet includes documentation of Danny Yung’s involvement in the founding of Basement Workshop, an arts and activist collective formed in New York City’s Chinatown in 1970. The materials span the years 1968-1971.

Materials related to AAAC and AAI’s operations and programs measure 51.5 linear feet. Contained within this measurement are AAAC’s early programmatic files, including documentation of the organization’s Arts-in-Education, Artists-in-Residence, and Folk Arts program, which measure 11.0 linear feet and span the dates 1985-1998. 10.0 linear feet document AAAC’s exhibitions (including Minds I and China: June 4, 1989) through postcards and other promotional materials, photographs, touring schedules, status reports, artist contact information, and exhibition catalogs. These materials date from 1986-1991. AAAC’s development files measure 5.0 linear feet and contain proposals and grant applications from 1978-93, and its administrative files are contained in 3.0 linear feet and span the dates 1984-2001. AAAC’s financial and business files are contained in 1.0 linear feet. Materials from AAAC’s resource library, including issues of publications such as Rice: The Magazine of Asian Influence (1987), art books, and Half-inch and VHS tapes such as Him Mark Lai and Phil Choy’s television documentary Gam Saan Haak (Travelers to Gold Mountain) (1969) are stored in 19.5 linear feet. Multiple copies of issues of the organizations own publication, ArtSpiral, from 1974-1989 are contained in 2.0 linear feet.

Related to AADT’s operations are 6.0 linear feet of audio cassette tapes, VHS tapes, DVDs, and half-inch tapes of performances and rehearsals, administrative files, press releases and clippings, photographs, slides, records of tours, and documentation of D’Asia Vu.

Lee and Yung’s papers also include 2.0 linear feet documenting TAAC from 1985-1993 and 4.0 linear feet of Lee and Yung’s personal files (1984-1992).

Contained in a three separate storage facilities in Lower Manhattan are additional materials spanning AAAC’s recent initiatives. AAAC programmatic, organizational, and financial records, as well as books, catalogs, magazines, and artwork from the AAAC Permanent Collection are contained in these spaces totaling 300 square feet.

Total Size: 1746.5 linear feet
APA-related Size: 1746.5 linear feet
Languages of materials: English (Primary), Chinese
Location: Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
Bibliographic Control: inventory
Inventory Link:
Conditions Governing Access: Contact repository for detailed information on conditions governing access.

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