Responses by Sumin Chou, partner, Concentric.
Background: The purpose of the site is to create a digital archive for the Center for US-China Arts Exchange, an organization founded at Columbia University in 1978 and remained active until 2019. The archive was acquired by the C.V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University as part of its special collections. We wanted to document the organization’s programs that brought together artists from both countries to exchange ideas and share expertise. The site includes all the organization’s published newsletters, photographs, lists of exchange participants and programs carried out over the course of 40 years. The target audience is primarily scholars, researchers, artists and nonprofit organizations involved in the arts and cultural exchange.
Design core: From a design perspective, we wanted to be faithful to the organization’s identity. We took cues from the original newsletters, which were printed in one color with all black-and-white photography. A Chinese seal was the primary branding element in the printed publications, which we incorporated into the site header.
Favorite details: The Chronology section stands out for us. It’s a nice way to scroll through the years and navigate to tertiary content. The site has a lot of long-form content and the chronology is certainly a long scroll, but it is manageable with the navigation system we put in place.
Challenges: Our work started in spring of 2020, just as the pandemic was starting to affect New York. The Columbia University campus closed so it was difficult to access the archival materials in person. It took several months for us to receive the physical materials and process them for the site.
The organization also had few remaining photographic assets, as many of the original photos were sent to the printer and subsequently lost. We ended up scanning several hundred hi-res images from the printed newsletter publications, which are now archived.
New lessons: We learned a lot about the organization’s history, its work and all the people involved. Aside from notable artists such as Arthur Miller, Luciano Pavarotti, Susan Sontag and Isaac Stern (see the film From Mao to Mozart, which documents his trip), there were a number of exchange programs that brought Chinese artists across the United States—to meet fellow basket weavers in Tennessee, indigenous ceramicists in New Mexico, and painters and musicians in New York and California. We hope visitors can gain insight and use this as a model for future cultural collaboration around the world.
Navigation structure: We kept it simple. We thought about containing the navigation in a drawer to create a cleaner look but ultimately, we felt it was more important to surface the navigation sections and keep them pinned to the top.