The place for Asian American artists to meet and collaborate.
New media changed the divide between creators and fans, as the ease to create content and give it a home online started a generation of artists with the ability to connect with fans on a more accessible level. New media also opens more opportunities to give voice to communities not represented in the mainstream, seen notably in Lost Angeles, Asian American artists. In this sprawling city, creators meet to network within the community at a number of different professional organizations, but one unique place encourages Asian American artists to come together as a community.
We Own the 8th, defined as an artists collective for Asian Americans, is a small network of different creatives who meet once a month in downtown Los Angeles. Founded in 2013 by actor Dante Basco, spoken word artist Beau Sia, and musician AJ Rafael, We Own the 8th is a way for Asian Americans to come together as a gathering place for the community. Monthly meetings at The Great Company, a studio and events space in the LA arts district, can feature a panel discussion, film screenings, special guest speakers, workshops, and more. Meetings feature guests from various disciplines, and people who come vary from artists established in their careers, others just starting out in the media, or supportive friends and fans.
“A lot of people come in because their friend told them that is was an awesome thing,” Rafael said. “It used to be a thing that me, Dante, and Beau as a select few would bring in people directly. We’re not doing a lot of marketing for it, I love organic growth.”
On average, at least a few dozen people attend each month’s meeting, enjoying the Great Company’s spacious rooms. The main room usually has a cooler of sodas for people to buy and some free snacks sit out on a high bar. At 7 P.M., one of the founders will open the set of wooden double doors leading in to the main room, laid out like a casual concert at someone’s home. In front of the room stands a small stage about a foot or two off the ground, beaten up couches take up the first two rows of seats, and behind that are rows of foldable plastic chairs.
A large white projection screen stands as the backdrop to the stage for films, shorts, music videos, or other presentations and the projector sits on a stand amidst the couches. The low yellow lights, couches, and minimal stage set up give the whole room a comfortable, open mic feel to every meeting. Most meetings open with a short song from a musician known locally or opening remarks introducing the night’s featured artist before starting the official event of the night.
“The idea of owning something like the eighth of the month is that in the community at large, everybody can come up for you and you can promote for everybody,” Dante Basco said. “That could be a big leveraging point for the community, having this idea that we own a day of the month when we can put out product.”
After spending over thirty years in the industry, Basco understands the inherent racism and other barriers Asian Americans, especially Filipino Americans like himself, experience working in Hollywood. Basco spent most of his early career working in black Hollywood, and admired that community of entertainers working together to create shows, promote others works, and network. He said that after many auditions and roles that didn’t sit well with him, he began to wonder why that same system didn’t exist for Asian American actors. He started thinking how he could create that space for not only the YouTube creators in new media, but for all of pop culture. He reached out to Sia, Rafael, and the founder of the Great Company Carl Choi, and they started talking about why Asian Americans are the least represented in the media. Together they began an open forum for artists to bridge new and traditional media, with no official meeting place or name in mind. Choi had recently opened the Great Company and offered to host the first meeting, and they by chance ended up meeting on the eighth.
The first meetings were not the same format as current ones, instead more focused on group discussions than a featured project. The board would bring in a keynote speaker and sit in a circle to discuss their projects or give ideas of what We Own the 8th could be in the future. As attendees grew after about a year and a half, the format of meetings started to change into the current structure of a produced event with a sharper focus. The founders knew they wanted to incorporate the eighth of the month for its significance in Chinese culture — the pronunciation of it (bā) sounding similar to prosperity (fā) — and originally tossed around names like Eight Asians. They came up with “We Own the 8th” as a way for the community to claim the day, the one day of the month audiences could expect something to come from Asian American artists.
Every We Own the 8th meeting shows how close the artists and the audience feel, not only in proximity but also in how the ways new media broke down the barriers between fans and celebrity. Especially with YouTube creators like bloggers, musicians, comedians, and short filmmakers, the idea of “they’re just like us” gives creates an atmosphere of approachability that We Own the 8th makes the most of every month. Meetings, no matter who the featured guest may be, focus on the craft instead of the fandom. Rafael says the largest crowd he’s seen at The 8th was for Randall Park, Louis Huang on ABC’s “Fresh Off Boat,” and even then the panel focused more on the importance of representation in the media instead of a fan meet-and-greet. Both Basco and Rafael have their own fan followings as well, Rafael with 638 thousand YouTube subscribers on his channel and Basco has 61 thousand subscribers. However they don’t try to actively promote We Own the 8th to those fans and instead focus on finding artists to create projects and build the community.
“It’s a big potluck with a purpose,” Minji Chang, a member of the We Own the 8th Directors Board and the Executive Director of Asian American non-profit organization Kollaboration, said. “They developed a core group that really works hard, I’m not even talking about the board, I’m talking about people within the collective who keep the fire alive, keep project going. This is very LA industry-focused, a place for people to learn, a place where they can develop a sense of identity, and find others who feel and think the same way.”
The founders appreciate the close-knit membership We Own the 8th has right now, and its reputation as a hidden gem. They can already see how meetings impact people who come often in the friends they make and in conversations about future projects together. The meeting for December featured a screening of the web series “Pretty Dudes” by YouTube channel CSRC, and the complete cast and crew are people who met at We Own the 8th.
“When I bring my personal friends over, they feel inclined to take some sort of action, whether big or small,” Rafael said. “People I tell to come because I know they’re either looking for a space, a space to meet people, or just want to be around more people of different talents, they end up meeting other creators and working together. I love seeing that happen.”
We Own the 8th is only three years old, so both Rafael and Basco say it’s still figuring itself out. The original goal of having a community that releases different projects once a month — owning the eighth — has yet to be realized as the LA community continues to grow. The founders feel that in the next few years, art and Asian American representation will start to impact more audiences outside the community, and We Own the 8th will be ready when it does.