Thuy Vo Dang is the curator of the UC Irvine Libraries’ Southeast Asian Archive, co-author of the 2015 book Vietnamese in Orange County, and, as of today, the newest member of the John Wayne Airport Arts Commission. We recently spoke about her interest and experience in the arts, her goals for airport arts commission, and what she’s been doing since OC Weekly named her the “Studs Terkel of Little Saigon” back in 2013.
OC WEEKLY: Why join the John Wayne Airport Arts Commission?
THUY VO DANG: I’ve been a part of the arts community in Orange County for about a decade now. I’m a member of the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA), and Arts Orange County. I’ve really started to learn more about arts advocacy. I want to make sure the arts are diverse and truly representative of what Orange County looks like today.
OCW: What do you hope to bring to the commission?
TVD: When the folks at Supervisor [Andrew] Do’s office asked me if was interested, I saw it as an opportunity to bring new energy to the commission. And some of the folks [on the commission] represent areas of the county I don’t know much about. That helps because I’m currently working on a book called A People’s Guide to Orange County. My co-authors are [former OC Weekly Editor] Gustavo Arellano and Elaine Lewinnek, a professor of American Studies at Cal State Fullerton. We’re currently writing it and it should be available next summer.
OCW: Why is it important to have art exhibits at the airport?
TVD: We really need more advocates to tell the story of arts in Orange County. I think John Wayne Airport is a great portal for that. For many people, it’s the first thing they see in the county. The exhibits can tell the story of our diverse county that is engaging to multiple experiences and perspectives.
OCW: What would you like to see different at the airport in terms of art?
TVD: I want to see more collaborations with that haven’t been there. John Wayne Airport folks have a high degree of professionalism, but we can do more to seek underrepresented organizations. The Latino community has a vibrant arts community in Santa Ana. The commission has been great about seeking out partnerships, but some smaller groups can be missed. VAALA is one. And youth groups–I’m always impressed with their energy. I want to do more with emerging artists.
OCW: Back in 2013, OC Weekly reporter R. Scott Moxley spoke to you in regards to UC Irvine’s Vietnamese American Oral History Project, which is now known as Viet Stories. How is that proceeding?
TVD: Since then I’ve transferred over to the UCI Libraries to head the Southeast Asian Archive. It’s no longer in the collecting phase, and Professor Linda Vo has taken it to the exhibition phase. We’ve had shows at the old Orange County Courthouse and the Nixon Library. Currently it’s at the Heritage Museum of Orange County, though that’s ending soon.
The Nixon Library exhibit included established and emerging artists in the Vietnamese community. When you combine storytelling with the arts, it becomes a very powerful vehicle.
The archive has 400 stories, and 200 are up on the digital archive. It gets about 10,000 hits a month. Other than Irvine, the city with the most traffic has been Beijing. And I get reference questions all the time from seventh and eighth graders. The last one I talked to was in Kansas. It’s become a great resource for educators and students.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.