Playwright Katie Ka Vang and Kathy Mouacheupao, former executive director of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent and recent Bush Leadership Fellow, team up this week for a short residency at Thai Café in St. Paul. Focused on letter writing, the project hosts a launch event this evening, and lasts through the weekend. It's a part of Springboard for the Arts' Irrigate program, a placemaking project focused on the Central Corridor LRT line.
Vang and Mouacheupao began talking about collaborating on the project last summer. According to Mouacheupao the project originated with the idea of getting people to engage with one another. "The project is really more about engagement rather than aesthetic," she says.
They stumbled upon Thai Café, which they hadn't been to before, and were surprised to discover that the owner
Photo courtesy Thai Cafe
is Hmong Thai (both Vang and Mouacheupao are Hmong).
On the cafe's menu, Mouacheupao says there's a paragraph about how Poophakumpanart traveled through Thailand collecting recipes, and brought them back to the Twin Cities. "It was really cool, and it got me thinking about my parents," Mouacheupao says.
Mouacheupao explains that many Hmong people their age remember receiving letters from family members living in refugee camps. The messages would come in the form of either a cassette tape, or in the form of a letter that was written on airmail stationary.
It got Mouacheupao thinking about how people don't write letters anymore, and how nice it is when we do. "We decided to facilitate this letter exchange," Mouacheupao says.
Originally, when they were coming up with the idea, Mouacheupao says they talked about creating messages in a bottle, putting wishes out into the world. "It's really based around this idea of anonymity," she says, "which gives a greater freedom to say whatever we want."
For the project launch this evening, people are invited to stop in and write a letter with pens and paper provided by the artists. You can come in at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., submit your letter, and receive one as well. You can also come into the restaurant anytime and take part in the exchange.
The other part of the project involves Katie Ka Vang acting as an artist in residence at the café. She will spend time conversing with people that come into the restaurant, and writing a play in part based on Poophakumpanart's own stories and travels. "She's quite an amazing woman," Vang says.
In addition to writing and talking to people, Vang will also encourage local customers who don't know about the project to submit and take a letter as well.
At the end of the short residency, on Sunday, Vang will do a presentation of some of the writing that she's done at the café.
Letters of Thai Café
The launch event happens tonight at 7 p.m. and at 8 p.m.
371 University Ave. W., St. Paul
There is parking behind the building that can be accessed from Western