From “subtle asian traits” to a new community in the Asian Creative Network

Asian Creative Network logo, courtesy Asian Creative Network

By now, you may have heard of the massively popular subtle asian traits, the Facebook group full of memes and inside jokes started by a group of high school kids in Australia.

From that sprang dozens of other Facebook communities like subtle curry traits, subtle asian dating, and even subtle asian Kevin traits. But there’s one offshoot with even bigger plans — merchandise, showcases, a book, and maybe even a convention — the Asian Creative Network.

The Asian Creative Network (ACN) was started in November 2018 by Han Ju Seo, a third-year undergrad student at Washington University, St. Louis. She’d always loved dance, fashion, and design. And one day, Seo decided to ask for other creatives in subtle asian traits to post their website links, Instagram handles, or other contact information.

Seo says her post came from a whim, but starting a group like ACN had been on her mind for a while. She’d always wanted to create a space that combined her passion for justice and love for creativity, and after breakthroughs like Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I Loved Before, Seo wanted to continue that energy. ACN was the result: a grassroots movement to help Asian creatives just starting out.

“I want the creative Asians to come out and show me what you got,” she says. When it blew up with hundreds of likes within minutes, she says, she thought, “Oh wow, there’s really something here.”

Five months later, the Asian Creative Network has over 20,000 members, over twenty city-based groups all over the world, and plans for expansion beyond Facebook.

A diverse set of creatives

Aside from the master ACN Facebook group, other groups are listed by specialty, including writing, culinary, dance, craft, advertising and more. There’s also groups for job postings, mental health support, and social change.

For the moment, the Asian Creative Network mostly lives online, functioning as a sort of message board. Artists from all over the world introduce themselves, post their portfolios or social media handles, ask questions for advice, post job listings, and sometimes post memes or media news.

As ACN has expanded, its leaders have grown the team, drafted a member form, implemented official community guidelines for interacting in the group, and introduced harassment policies to report unsafe people or behavior. Ensuring ACN remains a positive and safe space for all the members is a priority, especially if they want to continue the momentum that’s been building for Asian creatives.

“At least for 2019, I want to really kind of cultivate this organization,” Seo says. “When I look at it, it’s not just as this cool thing that’s on the internet, I really want it to become a resource and become a source of empowerment for Asian creatives.”

With its new influence, Seo also wants to collaborate with other Asian organizations that empower the creative community, especially since she says they’re all fighting for the same goal.

ACN’s city-specific reach opens a lot of possible doors for younger creatives, especially in the location-based subgroups that include American hubs like Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle, as well as international cities with groups for London, Melbourne, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Toronto, and over a dozen others.

Organizing city meetups

Seo says she’s felt the toll managing ACN has taken on her health, both physically and mentally. Part of relieving that burden meant building a small team to help organize the executive duties like communication with the members, marketing, and general group management. As that group takes charge of ACN on the national-international scale, the individual city chapters can do as they wish with ACN’s blessing.

The first offline city meetings began without any formal organizing, within the first week of ACN’s existence. Asian creatives in San Francisco hosted the first meet-up, followed by Sydney and then Los Angeles. Dozens of others have followed as city groups become more active, in a variety of forms: New York hosted a small talent showcase, Sydney hosts regular meet-ups, and Los Angeles held a winter party.

Each city team is based on how active the Facebook group is, and if there’s enough interest to form a functioning team that fits under the larger umbrella while reporting to the ACN city chapter manager. Each branch’s leadership team size varies, but there’s always at least one city manager.

“City managers are the people on the ground who engage those communities,” Justin Chang, the ACN Global City Director, said in an email. “If we could show ourselves and our communities that we are committed to building authentic relationships, I believe that is when we have succeeded with ACN.”

Chang didn’t expect to take on a leadership role within the group, but he’d been talking to Seo early on about another project. Eventually it led to him joining the preliminary board.

Now as the global city manager, he’s the main point of communication between both branches, monitoring different events and aligning everyone’s goals. He hopes that the city chapters will encourage the greater mission of ACN in a more tangible way, while he makes sure that ACN doesn’t splinter and decentralize.

“I want members to be actively engaged and invested in the success and well-being of the other members,” Chang says. “I want communities to interact and communicate, to struggle together and celebrate together.”

Los Angeles rising

One of the largest ACN city chapters is the Los Angeles branch, which has hosted meet-ups and a winter mixer, and brought together artist collaborations across the city. The two managers, Michelle Chan and Michelangelo Nguyen, met when Chan hosted her own casual LA meet up for some in the group. Since then, ACN:LA has begun talks with different collaborations, and hopes to eventually host a creative arts festival.

“LA is obviously a center for entertainment and creative things, but also we have a pretty dense Asian American population. The community is already really tight, but it’s not necessarily unified through the creative fields,” Michelle Chan, one of the city managers for ACN: LA, says. “There are a lot of hard-working people here, but it’s hard to find a foot in the door in the industry.”

The Los Angeles branch of ACN aims to form those connections to make its own chapter, as well as the overall Asian Creative Network, more sustainable. Chan says she would love to see more global collaborations between the groups, empowering individual artists to create their own groups and spaces.

Big plans ahead

As ACN builds and organizes through its sudden expansion, its community has big plans for the next year. A more sustainable model is a priority, but between Seo, the city managers, and the city chapters, different ideas abound.

“I think it’s one of those things with potential that’s terrifying and also really exciting at the same time,” Seo says. “Hopefully ACN, no matter how far it goes, no matter what happens, can at least provide community and empowerment for Asians no matter how long it lasts.”

Lily Rugo is a writer and blogger focused on identity, pop culture, media representation, and sometimes tech. She’s based in Boston and her other work can be found at lilyrugo.com.