Changing Tides hosted an Opening Reception for their first pop-up art exhibit on February 9, 2019 at 341 FSN. Walking into the pop-up, I first noticed how crowded it already was immediately at 6:00; 341 FSN is a small storefront on Historic First Street North, and what space was not filled with art or artists, was filled with visitors, food from Cafe Dulce, and resources for those struggling with their mental health. The Opening Night program began with an opening speech by Changing Tides’ Youth Committee, performances from acapella group The Grateful 4, and recognizing the artists in the crowd with carnations.
Changing Tides is a program of Little Tokyo Service Center that began in 2018, with a mission to normalize positive mental health in the Japanese American and greater Asian American community through events, outreach and education, and open conversations. The pop-up was organized by Changing Tides’ Youth Committee, also known as the Changing Tides Crew: Ty Tanioka, Moet Kurakata, Max Kaito, Courtlyn Shimada, Katie Mitani, and Teryn Hara. Their first event was a benefit gala titled "Changing Tides: An Open Conversation on Compassion and Well-Being" in May of 2018, and since then, the Changing Tides Crew has put on many other events around Southern California. Their events aim to open up the conversation of mental health, by offering activities such as candle making for self care, or paint nights to de-stress.
The pop-up was special to me—not only because my roommate is part of The Changing Tides Crew—but because a feeling of community support was present as soon as you entered the building. The featured artists all seemed to know each other, the visitors, and the community leaders who came to look at the exhibit. While the focus of the event was on a potentially heavy topic for some, most patrons and artists seemed appreciative of the space, and each other. Many hugs and sounds of laughter were exchanged throughout the night, tied together with a shared feeling of gratitude. The Changing Tides Crew had a hand in creating this environment. With only one month to curate the entire exhibit, they immediately reached out to their friends, family, and community members to submit art. They received an overwhelming amount of submissions, and eventually built the pop-up exhibit from the ground up. There were familiar faces all around, and I was able to catch up with Kizuna program alumni Moet Kurakata, Katie Mitani, and Erika Kodama about their art, and what CTxFSN meant to them.
Katie Mitani, 18, is currently a student at El Camino Community College. She’s the youngest member of the Changing Tides Crew, and was a featured artist in the exhibit. Katie also painted the Hokusai Wave that was present on the back wall of the exhibit.
(Top) Katie Mitani, 18, with her piece “Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk.
(Bottom) Katie with the Hokusai Wave she painted.
Her piece, “Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk” is a commentary on a phrase that she’s been told since childhood. She noted how it was important to take into account feelings when you feel them, and not dismiss either the troubles that you’re going through or emotions that you’re feeling as trivial. As the youngest member of the team, I asked her why it was important for her to be involved with an organization such as Changing Tides, and why more young people should start talking about their mental health.
KM: “It’s really important, I think, to get younger people to start talking about issues such as mental health, because it’s really avoided just with social media and stuff, and people [are] trying to present themselves as their best selves. So I think it’s important to get younger people to start to be open, and open to the conversation. So definitely, I think getting involved with Changing Tides as a younger person is being able to do the most either in the community or just as an individual, I think, like, fulfilling the most potential that I can possibly fulfill.”
As a past Summer Camp counselor and Leadership participant, Katie has been involved with Kizuna’s programs for the past few years. When asked how Kizuna has helped play a role in her community work and involvement with Changing Tides, she said:
KM: “[Kizuna] definitely has helped me with forming connections in the community, I have met so many people through Kizuna. So many people involved in Kizuna have tended to spread out to other parts of the community, so it’s really interesting to see where people take… the influences of the programs…and how they can kind of incorporate it into different parts of the community. Being able to take what I’ve learned through Kizuna and try to incorporate that into Changing Tides and other parts of my life too.”
Moet Kurakata, 23, is another Changing Tides Crew member and featured artist.
Moet’s involvement in the Japanese American community began in college, as Cultural Awareness and Community Service Chair for UCLA’s Nikkei Student Union. Since then, she has been a counselor for Kizuna’s Service Learning program and is the current Executive Assistant at the JACCC.
MK: “I wouldn’t have been a part of any of this if it weren’t for UCLA’s NSU… and [Kizuna] is one of the organizations in Little Tokyo, the anchoring orgs that I think is so important to keep everyone connected within Little Tokyo.”
As a former art student, Moet uses art to express her thoughts about mental health:
MK: “...I’m not, you know, not too vocal about it, but I love being able to show it in other ways… I think it’s important because… I’ve heard the older generation say, like, ‘Thank you guys for doing this, because we couldn’t do it.’ And so I think looking forward, it’s just like, we’re going to be the ones… in the next generations to come, so might as well start now… We want to, you know, eventually go to schools and start talking about mental health for more younger generations. We’re not there yet, but just start destigmatizing it and make it normal for mental health to be talked about.”
Lastly, over noisy chatter, I was able to talk with Erika Kodama. Erika, 21, is a current fourth year at UCSB, and drove down for Opening Night.
EK: “Mental health has always been a taboo within with Nikkei household. I feel like having a place to display my work that’s targeted for a Nikkei audience, and making sure that there’s that common ground of addressing mental health even though all of our struggles are different. I feel like Nikkei representation matters in terms of, like, bringing awareness to this kind of a subject and making this less of a taboo.”
Erika was a part of the 2018 Nikkei Community Internship NorCal cohort, and interned at the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS). Since then, she has continued her involvement at UCSB Nikkei Student Union’s Publicity Chair. She notes that her community involvement has given her a way to stay passionate about making art:
EK: “Before a lot of my art was for more of a healing practice and self-expression. But now, I feel like having a reason that I am so passionate to make art as representing Nikkei community and activism within the Asian American community… the only reason I would learn that is through NSU, through NCI… otherwise, I probably would not feel the same way about making art and being so open about displaying it in places like this.”
The CTxFSN Pop-Up Art Exhibit closed on March 2, with a Closing Reception featuring more performances by Nikkei artists. I would like to thank the interviewees, Katie, Moet, and Erika for being brave enough to share their journeys and experiences with me and everyone who visited the pop-up.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, you are not alone.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741-741
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
ABOUT CHANGING TIDES
Changing Tides began when Little Tokyo Service Center created an event that sparked a dialogue on the importance of mental health within the Asian American community. That event was titled "Changing Tides: An Open Conversation on Compassion and Well-Being" and was held in May of 2018. The event was produced by the collaborative efforts of a general committee and a youth committee. We were that youth committee. With a passion to continue our mission to end the stigma surrounding mental health and normalize healthy discussions within the Asian American community, we have created Changing Tides. We are glad to have you here and we hope that you will join us in changing the tides.
Changing Tides is a program of Little Tokyo Service Center located in Los Angeles, CA.
Stay tuned for more Changing Tides events coming soon!
thechangingtides.org | @ltsc_changingtides