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Wing Luke Appoints New Executive Director

Joël Barraquiel Tan replaces longtime boss Beth Takekawa

By Chris S. Nishiwaki March 2, 2022


Joël Barraquiel Tan says he once weighed as much as 338 pounds. Diet, exercise, meditation and mindfulness have helped him shed weight but not his energy, creativity and leadership. A slimmed down Tan has been hired as the new executive director of Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, colloquially known as the Wing Luke or The Wing. 

Barraquiel’s Tan’s appointment caps a yearlong national search led by Wing Luke board of directors co-presidents Ellen Ferguson and Jill Nishi, who also cochaired the search committee. The job was promoted with a salary range of $155,000 to $180,000. The museum, which has a $3 million budget and 40 employees, is the second-largest business in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, behind grocery and gift store Uwajimaya. 

Barraquiel Tan becomes the first queer director, first foreign born and first of Filipino descent to lead the museum in its 54-year history. Barraquiel Tan, who will be moving from Hawaii, will attend the Wing Luke’s gala on March 13 at the Sheraton Grand Seattle hotel. Barraquiel Tan starts April 15

“Why would I want to leave one of the most beautiful places on the planet for this job? I was responding to The Wing as if it was the “Bat-Signal,” he says, referring to the searchlight call for help made popular by the adventure comic Batman.

“To me, this opportunity comes in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of API (Asian Pacific Islander) hate, you have Jan. 6,” he says. “It is about ‘what are you going to do in this moment?’ The cultural capital, the social capital (of the Wing Luke) is the Batmobile. What is going to happen in the next year? It is going to take strong institutions like Wing to get through this.” 

 Barraquiel Tan replaces Beth Takekawa, who retired as executive director after 14 years in charge of the museum and 24 years in the organization. Takekawa was promoted to the top job after the iconic Ron Chew left the museum in 2007. Chew previously led the Wing Luke for 16 years.

“Neither Ron nor Beth came from the museum field and they brought their unique perspectives,” Ferguson says. “During this search, we were looking for someone with a lot of creativity and intersectional skills and personality. Joël stood out as the right candidate, the right human for this time. He is a person who can connect with so many communities in so many ways. And frankly, we need a lot of healing these days. And, his art and his creativity, they are in his DNA.” 

Barraquiel Tan has more than 30 years’ experience in social justice, storytelling, diversity, equity and inclusion, public health and the arts.

Barraquiel Tan concedes he may have one thing in common with Batman.

“I think being queer is a superpower,” Barraquiel Tan says. “I think queer consistently can be an incredible way to (spread) joy. Queerness creates the paradox that makes something interesting, creates novelty, the surprising outcome.” 

Wing Luke Deputy Director Cassie Chin, who served as interim executive director during the search, will return to her original job.

Barraquiel Tan previously served as executive director of the East Hawaii Contemporary Arts Center and the Kalanihonua Retreat Center. His latest post was as director of social impact and programs at Touching the Earth. In 2018, he helped establish Vibrant Hawai’i, a collective impact network of leadership across diverse sectors working at the systemic level to eliminate Hawai’i Island’s 55 percent poverty rate. 

Prior to that, Barraquiel Tan served as the director of community engagement at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, where he created and implemented the organization’s award-winning Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies, which he modeled after the Wing Luke Museum’s community arts curatorial program developed by Chew.

The Wing Luke, a Smithsonian Affiliate and National Park Service Affiliated Area, tells the diverse stories of all Asian Pacific American cultures. Nationally acclaimed Wing Luke serves as a cultural anchor in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. 

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