CHAT celebrates 10 years

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The Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT), the first Hmong arts organization in the nation, has been bringing the benefits of the arts to the Hmong community for the last decade.

CHAT grew from what was originally Pom Siab Hmoob Theatre (PSHT), the first Hmong theatre company in the world. PSHT wrote and produced five community-based theatrical productions, including Hmong Tapestry: Voices from the Cloth and The Garden of the Soul, from 1990-1997. In 1998, in order to better serve the Hmong community, PSHT organizers decided to expand their focus beyond theatre arts. PSHT changed its name to CHAT and expanded its reach to include visual, theatre, literary, music, traditional Hmong arts and multi-media digital arts.

Through the years, CHAT has continuously morphed; remaining relevant to the community by offering the latest art trends to youth through its after-school program, Art Saves Us (ASU), and creating opportunities for professional artists through school residencies, workshops, theatre and an annual Hmong arts and music festival.

Under the direction of current Executive Director, Kathy Mouacheupao, CHAT continues to break barriers and set unprecedented events. Since her tenure began in 2005, Mouacheupao has redefined and expanded CHAT’s outreach program and dubbed it the ICE (Innovative Community Elevation) Outreach program. ICE features free monthly “Voice Your Mind” open mic sessions, theatre productions and tours, as well as a biweekly arts page in Hmong Today newspaper.

Mouacheupao has also leveraged CHAT’s Arts and Music Festival to engage the community in social issues through art by creating themes for each festival. The themes focus on social, political and cultural issues affecting the Hmong community. Last year’s theme, Dreaming in Hmong, focused on the positive aspects – the future of the Hmong community as it finds its place in American society – and showcased the history and experiences of the Hmong-American community as seen through the dreams of Hmong visual and performing artists.

In 2007 alone, Moucheupao expanded CHAT’s artistic programming to include CHAT Radio, a Hmong–American radio program in English, and Dawning/Dabneeg (folktale in Hmong) Theatre, a program with the goal to produce theatre created entirely by Hmong artists.

Mouacheupao feels strongly that the two newest programs will take CHAT to the next level, which she defines as building capacity through the arts. “CHAT aspires to be more than one or two classes a student may take. We want to use art to foster leaders for social change.”

In partnership with KFAI, a Twin Cities volunteer-based community radio station, CHAT Radio plays every Monday night, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The hour-long show incorporates news from the Hmong Today community newspaper, features contemporary music, interviews and live performances by Hmong artists and provides a channel for debate and dialogue on economic, political, social, cultural and developmental issues affecting the Hmong community.

Since its first show aired in May 2007, its popularity has grown substantially with listeners all across the nation.

Mouacheupao attributes much of CHAT Radio’s success to the fact that it is not restricted to Hmong-speaking listeners. “CHAT Radio continues in our tradition of building a supportive audience while promoting and developing Hmong artists. Not only are we attracting the next generation of Hmong singers and songwriters, but we’re opening our talents to the broader community. Because we don’t restrict the language to Hmong-only, all listeners can understand and appreciate talent coming from the Hmong community.”

The second program, Dawning/Dabneeg Theatre is the first theatre program of its kind. Dawning/Dabneeg Theatre aims at providing the Hmong experience through theatre created entirely by Hmong artists. “There’s an artistic void in the Hmong community, especially in theatre and performing arts,” said Mouacheupao. “Dabneeg Theatre is about finding Hmong talent in playwright, stage direction, props…everything involved in making and producing a play … and really cultivating that talent.”

After a long series of workshops, Dawning/Dabneeg Theatre released its first play, Stir Fried Pop Culture, written by May Lee-Yang, on January 11-13, 2008. The experimental short play was sold out and received rave reviews from the audience.

Stir-Fried Pop Culture will be touring as part of CHAT’s outreach program from April 1 – May 30, 2008. To learn more, contact Angie for more info: 651-644-6969 or angie@aboutchat.org.

To learn more about CHAT programs and upcoming events, please visit www.aboutchat.org or www.myspace.com/aboutchat.

CHAT’s Monday night radio program, CHAT Radio, can be heard live at 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. on KFAI (106.7FM in St. Paul, 90.3FM in Minneapolis, or streaming online at www.kfai/org/node/3138).

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