AAPIP Voices

Rebuilding a Landmark: How the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago Rose from the Ashes


By: Noelle Ito, AAPIP Senior Director of Community Philanthropy

Editor’s Note: In celebration of the Asian Giving Circle’s 10th Anniversary, we are providing multiple angles on the impact and partnerships that Giving Circles have in our communities.  This is Part Two of a three-part series, featuring a past grantee of the Asian Giving Circle. Read Part One here.

After a fire ravaged the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago – Raymond B. & Jean T. Lee Center (CAMOC), the community was left shocked and saddened.  Photos, artifacts, and pieces of history contributed by community members as a way to leave a legacy for future generations were lost.  Having only opened in 2005 and then struck with disaster in 2008, it took nearly two years for CAMOC leadership and the surrounding community to recover from the devastation that claimed 90% of the museum’s collection.

The thought of rebuilding was daunting but even worse was the idea of not having a place to celebrate the culture, history, and stories of Chinese Americans in the Midwest.  Soon after the fire, the Museum’s board members and community leaders looked for ways to raise money.  A few of them knew of the Asian Giving Circle (AGC) and quickly applied for funding.  Instead of seeking grants to fund bricks and mortar, CAMOC had the foresight to apply for capacity building grants to sharpen their skills on fundraising and further leverage resources in the community. 

With a grant from AGC, “three of our board members and myself were able to enroll in a course to learn about fundraising and proposal writing,” recalls Anita Luk, Executive Director of CAMOC.  “But more than that, at AGC’s grants celebration, I remember that I was pleasantly surprised to find that several of my old friends were part of the giving circle and that meant so much to us– to receive funding from our community to help us rebuild.”

CAMOC’s story exemplifies the transformative power of Giving Circles and leveraging individual action for collective good.  From losing nearly their entire collection to rebuilding a strong community center for culture, CAMOC, with Asian Giving Circle’s support, now stands celebrating its third continuous year as an anchor in Chicago’s Chinatown.

Going to be in Chicago this summer? 

Visit the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago’s Traditional Chinese Festivals: A Celebration of Culture Exhibit.