The director of the Museum of Chinese Americans in New York will be resigning for a new position as founding director of the new Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, MOCA’s Board of Directors announced in a letter to supporters today.
Nancy Yao first became MOCA’s director in 2015. During her tenure, MOCA announced in 2022 it would be moving into a new building designed by famed architect Maya Lin. The $118 million dollar project will be five times bigger than the current location and will be nine stories tall with multiple gallery spaces.
It’s scheduled for completion in 2025 and the current space is set to close sometime this year to allow for construction.
Yao also helped MOCA recover from a devastating fire that destroyed a building housing its archives in 2020.
MOCA moved quickly to restore many of the damaged artifacts in its collection.
“Through her leadership, MOCA salvaged more than 98 percent of the country’s most extensive collection of Chinese American artifacts. Those efforts culminated with the recent opening of our new Research Workshop Center at 3 Howard Street, which we encourage all to visit,” the board said in its letter.
The Board called it a “bittersweet moment” and congratulated Yao for taking on such a “meaningful role” with the Smithsonian. It credited her leadership with developing plans for a new space that “will serve as a hub for the overlooked history of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. At a moment when anti-Chinese American sentiment remains a daily issue for so many of us nationwide, this project couldn’t be more important.”
Yao’s eight years with MOCA is not without controversy. Opponents of plans to build a multi-story jail accused the museum of accepting a $35 million bribe to support the project.
The protestors also accused MOCA’s board Co-Chair Jonathan Chu, a landlord, of displacing the popular Jing Fong restaurant and gentrifying the neighborhood.
“I value voice and protest because sometimes that’s the only way for change,” she said to AsAmNews in 2021. “But everything they’re saying is a lie.”
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