Bringing China Home in 2008

– Tricia Dickson ’08

Joanne Chiang ’01

Joanne Chiang knew earlier than most that Southwestern was the place for her. What she didn’t know was that her time at Southwestern would lead her down a path quite different from the one she anticipated.

Chiang applied to Southwestern Early Decision because of the pre-med program. After taking a communications course a few semesters in, however, she realized that this discipline better suited her interests. The professors she had were a major influence in her decision to switch majors, especially Bob Bednar and David Olson. With medical school no longer on her radar, Chiang was uncertain of what she wanted to do after graduation other than work with communication and media. “When you graduate with a liberal arts degree, most people don’t know exactly what they want to do,” Chiang says. “I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who knew.” After taking a year off, she decided to move to New York City.

When Chiang was interviewing in New York City, she contacted the alumni office and was put in touch with an alumna living in Manhattan whom she had never met. The alumna was very friendly and welcoming, and even let Chiang stay in her apartment for a few days as she prepared for her interview.

Chiang realized this is something that would not have happened if she had gone to a big school, and the experience led not only to a heightened appreciation for the small college experience, but also showed her the value of alumni connections. Once in New York, she started attending alumni volunteer events, and eventually took over the planning herself. Last spring she got together with some classmates and started The New York Association of Southwestern University Alumni. She also repays the kindness she was shown upon first coming to New York by helping out other alumni who are new to the city. Her experiences with fellow Southwestern alumni have shown Chiang that “people tend to want to help.”

Chiang now works as a broadcast manager for the Olympics at NBC. In the past she has covered the Athens 2004 and Torino 2006 Olympic games, and is currently working on the Beijing 2008 games. Chiang coordinates with producers to arrange shoots and interviews with athletes around the world, as well as cultural segments about the host country. Her job requires her to coordinate many of the logistical aspects of the segments, as well as be very detail-oriented.

She might not have realized it at the time, but Chiang says Southwestern helped prepare her for her job outside of the classroom as well. While at Southwestern, she served as Alpha Delta Pi’s formal recruitment chair, a position that also requires a lot of planning, logistics and details. “In retrospect, it makes so much sense to work in event planning, especially one of the biggest broadcasting events in the world,” Chiang says.

The coverage of the Olympics does more than just show us the athletes and the games; it “brings the country into people’s homes.” This year, however, the coverage will have much more personal meaning. Although Chiang grew up in a Chinese- American household and is already familiar with many Chinese customs and foods, she is very excited to learn the meaning and history behind practices she is already familiar with, as well as some aspects of the culture that will be completely new to her. This summer she will travel to China for the first time, and live there for around a month. “It will be interesting to see what’s familiar and what’s not,” Chiang says. As far as plans for the future, Chiang says that “working with the Olympics is such a unique and rejuvenating experience, it would be hard to give it up.” She is looking forward to the Beijing games and hopes to be around for many games to come.

Passion for Chinese Art Leads to Coveted Museum Position

– Tricia Dickson ’08

Kris Ercums ’93

As a young boy, Kris Ercums conceived of “The East” as a mystical place far removed from the reality of life in Texas. In fact, his first experience with Asian culture was when his mother bought him a copy of a magazine titled “Ninja.”

“It was through the realm of imagination that I first began to read as widely as I could on Asia,” Ercums says.

His interest continued to grow and mature with him, and when he was a junior in high school he was finally able to experience Asia firsthand. He was given the opportunity to participate in a Rotary summer exchange and chose the Singapore and Malaysia program, which was the only option in Asia. While abroad, he lived with families from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including Malay, Sikh, Tamil and Chinese. The following summer was 1989 and Ercums remembers being completely absorbed in the coverage of the Tian’anmen Square student protests. After this, he knew that he wanted to study Chinese history.

When he entered Southwestern in the fall of 1989, Ercums signed up to be one of the first students to study Chinese at the University. “It was new and everyone wanted to take it,” he recalls. Ercum’s first encounter with Asian art came in Professor Thomas Howe’s art history survey class. He wrote a paper for this class using the newly acquired Chinese facsimile scrolls from the Palace Museum in Taipei (see story p. 17). Later in the class, he wrote his final paper on contemporary architecture in Hong Kong. “These two topics—painting and contemporary art—formed the focus of my later studies,” Ercums says.

Through his Chinese classes at Southwestern, Ercums also learned a lot about calligraphy and brushwork that would help out quite a bit when studying Chinese painting later on. During his time at Southwestern, Ercums also had the opportunity to study abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This was perhaps the most profound and altering experience of my entire undergraduate career,” he recalls.

Ercum’s professors at Southwestern, particularly his thesis advisor, Steve Davidson, encouraged him to pursue graduate studies. Davidson also encouraged him to read the works of Wu Hung at the University of Chicago, whom he has been studying with since 1998.

After graduating from Southwestern with a degree in history, Ercums decided to travel a bit before settling in Taiwan, where he studied Chinese and worked as an English teacher and in an antique store. He learned how to restore Chinese furniture and the finer points of the art business from John Ang, the owner of Artasia.

Ercums went on to earn a master’s degree in art history from the University of Chicago, and plans to defend his Ph.D. dissertation on exhibition culture in early 20th-century China in spring 2008. He received a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to conduct his dissertation research in Beijing. Ercums loved living in Beijing and says it was one of the hardest things for him to leave. It was made a little easier, however, by the fact that he landed a coveted job as museum curator.

Upon returning to the States in October 2007, Ercums started as the curator of Asian art at the Spencer Museum, which is located at the University of Kansas. His position focuses on modern and contemporary Asian art, and Ercums says there are only two other such positions in the museum world, both of which are in New York.

“This is a position where I can create a collection and exhibition program from scratch, and, in making a name for myself, help establish the reputation of the Spencer as a leader in cutting- edge scholarship on modern and contemporary Asian art,” Ercums says.