When Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres stepped in as executive director of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum in August, one of her first orders of business was to find out what people really wanted from the 21-year-old institution. For the entire month of September, she enticed people to the museum with various offers and free admission in exchange for filling out a survey.
“We found that people really wanted a more dynamic museum that explored in-depth themes and things that tied to everyday life,” Beres said.
Beres said she thinks “Radical Machines: Chinese in the Information Age,” the exhibition opening at the museum this week, is exactly what people said they wanted. The show uses rare artifacts and historical film footage to explore the history and importance of Chinese technology and information technology. Rare Chinese typewriters, word processors and other objects and multimedia displays will help explain how innovative inventions found ways to quickly input the Chinese language, which has more than 70,000 unique characters and no alphabet. The technology in some of the old machines eventually led to the handy predictive text or autocomplete feature used by smartphones today.
“Radical Machines” was curated by Stanford historian Tom Mullaney, who holds the world’s largest collection of Chinese typewriters. It debuts in San Diego Jan. 21 and will be on view through April 16 before heading off on an international tour.
Beres is in her 30s – young for an executive director of a historical museum – and she took the reins from the museum’s longtime founding director. She said she hopes to bring new energy to the museum and reach a bigger, more diverse crowd with “Radical Machines” and upcoming exhibitions and events. She said she realizes the museum’s reach has fallen short in years past, and that she’ll be working to expand awareness and get people talking about what her institution is doing.
“We are a Chinese-themed museum, but we really believe that what we’re doing is for everyone,” she said. “For me, this is a really exciting moment because it shows off a new direction for our museum, which is to make it as accessible to the public as possible and to increase our footprint in San Diego.”