When Does a Little Chinese Girl Get to be Supergirl?

This story originally appeared in Huffington Post.

I can remember exactly how I felt the first time I saw Porgy and Bess and fell in love with the music and the story.

So I asked my mom, “Is there a Chinese Porgy and Bess?”

She didn’t think so.  I felt a little left out so I got myself the sheet music for “Summertime” and learned to play it on the piano.  And each time I did, I looked into the mirror hanging behind the piano and saw myself, a little Chinese girl humming this beautiful song and hearing Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in my head.

I wondered if the composer, George Gershwin, had written music for other stories, maybe something that had people in it that looked like me.  He didn’t. Later on, people would tell me that most stories have basic universal themes and can be everyone’s journey.

My brain understood that.  My gut did not.  But I was a kid and believed that was the way things were and you just went along with it.

What really happens

I didn’t realize how much I wanted to point to a character on stage and say, “That’s me!”  I wanted to see, hear, and feel a story that rang true for me.  I wanted to root for a real person and see myself in their experience.  I wanted the world to see it would understand me.

Of course that didn’t happen.  Not even when my parents took me to see Chinese opera movies in Chinatown where every one of them became a blur of rapid fire Chinese, kung fu fighting and monkey kings wreaking havoc on a mountain.  In Saturday morning Chinese school classes, I read primers printed in garish colors on rice paper that featured illustrations of Chinese people next to verbs and nouns.

It sent a message.  My story is about mythical ninjas and people pointing at things.

I didn’t bother to try out for my school production of Tom Sawyer.  Me, Becky Thatcher?  I couldn’t see myself in that role.  Every superhero I drew was a blond Supergirl.  The good guys, Cinderella, Marilyn Monroe… they were blondes.  Dark hair, dark skin was Boris & Natasha, Snidely Whiplash.  Chinese music that I shared with my class was “interesting folk music”, not classical music.  And the classical piano music I was learning was dominated by a closed circle of composers, all men, all European, all dead.  Without a word, I knew my place.

But I still wondered.

If the stories we share are everyone’s journey, shouldn’t the heros and heroines look and sound like everyone?

Is there room in piano repertoire for other people to create music to be respected and loved?

Why couldn’t I try out for Becky Thatcher?

What we can do

Many years ago, my sister took a trip to my mother’s home village in China. “Mom’s name was not in the family book,” she sputtered furiously. “So, if her name isn’t in the book, guess what – our names aren’t in the book either!  We don’t exist.”

The explanation was, even though my mom has 18 brothers and sisters and a couple of concubine stepmothers, the book only listed the names of the male children. Now, are you going to tell me I don’t have a story worth telling?

That did it.

How many more places can I be invisible, non existent?

I am sure my sister wanted to throttle someone for this terrible omission and out of respect for her elders, she bowed, smiled and hopped on a plane to New York ready to raise holy hell about it.

Meaning, she called me.  “You’re a writer, do something about this!”

What I did

I wrote a story about my family.  In my mind, this is the beginning of my family book in America from one of the newest members of this large family.  Rabbit Mooncakes is a picture book that shows many of my aunts, uncles and cousins celebrating the Harvest Moon Festival in Queens. To this day, they still argue over who is who, no, you’re the chubby one, I’m the one in this picture, that’s me on the right of Auntie #5.

It is everyone’s story. Female and male children, aunts and uncles, concubines, first & second wives, library boys governesses and a grandfather whose presence was larger than life.

Exclusion does not right past exclusion.  An incomplete story will not complete itself.

I learned a great piece of wisdom from a copywriter who said that copywriting is the art of persuasion on paper.

And the best way to do this is to enter into a conversation that is already happening in your reader’s head.  Listen respectfully, offer a story or another way to be curious about something and then be still, let the reader sit with what you have to offer and make a decision.  Any other approach would be akin to beating up a customer to sell a used car.

Isn’t that powerful?  Awakening an awareness to something new without force, creating a space for reflection and leaving the reader with the agency to come to a new understanding on their own.

This helped me to create something meaningful that does a few things: a story you can recognize yourself in, an experience that builds your confidence, and opens new ways to be curious and creative about the things you care about.

What about you

We are all creative beings by nature.  What we share is a lifetime of experiences and emotions.  The stories only you can tell are waiting to be heard by someone else. Someone who wants to feel that they are not alone.

If that person is you, be bold and share your story.

I can’t wait for a new Porgy & Bess.

Or Supergirl.






About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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The Most Important Thing A Writer Should Never Forget

Iris Chang

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

She was a force.

As I looked at her 2 books, The Thread of the Silkworm and The Rape of Nanking, I felt small and foolish sitting among a pile of old photographs from my own family history.

Many people have spoken of the tenacity, brilliance and compassion that drove Iris Chang, an American author and journalist best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking, to achieve so much in her short life. She was a thinker, someone who dreamed big and accomplished even greater things driven by a passion to tell a story that needed to be told.

“Civilization is tissue thin,” Iris wrote. She called this the most important lesson to be learned from the tragedy of Nanking. And she believed her research produced irrevocable proof of Japanese atrocities. She wrote:

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

The book hit the stores at Christmas, a tough selling season for serious nonfiction. It became a surprise best-seller. A groundswell of interest in the Chinese American community had quickly spread to booksellers and the broader reading public. Newsweek ran an excerpt, and soon Iris was a familiar face on TV news shows. Reader’s Digest devoted a cover story to her.        

from SFGate

Like others who were in awe of her as a confident young woman who excelled at everything she put her mind to, I feel my attempts to write anything are futile. Especially stories that are rooted in our shared Chinese American background.

Would my stories have the ferocious yet compassionate lens on a human experience?  Could I create something as resonant for my reader?

Something that has the power to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable?

It would be very easy to give up and take up knitting.  To brush off the demon who is dancing on my shoulder daring me to write my story.  To turn away from the story I have been longing to tell.

But I know I won’t because my belief in my story is as strong as Iris Chang’s belief in hers.  She knew how words could bring to life the silent narratives of people with no voice. And that we have to write them.

That is what I tell myself when I sit down to write.

I often wonder if the stars feel like this when the sun rises.

Do they think, “Oh great, now that he’s here we might as well fizzle out.  Who’s going to even see us?”

But sunrise happens everyday.  And so does sunset, which is followed by a dusk, twilight and yes, the stars.  The light of the stars at that moment has its own magic and wonder.

If any of you have ever felt like this, rekindle the passion you have for the story inside of you until it burns bright with an inner flame and tell it.

You may not be a snowflake, but you can dream of being a star.



About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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I am an Artist and… an Interview with Shervone Neckles



This story originally appeared in Huffington Post

Sometimes when I talk to people who work in the art world, they tell me they are arts administrators.
Then, there are arts administrators that are very clear about being more than that.
Meet Shervone Neckles.


I’m a first generation Afro-Caribbean American born to Grenadian parents. Raised in Brooklyn, New York. I’m an interdisciplinary artist, educator, community worker, art administrator, wife, and mother currently residing in Queens, New York.


Both. Initially, I was concerned with there being conflicts of interest, so I erred on the side of caution and tried to compartmentalize those roles. I immediately discovered how limiting and unnatural it felt to separate those roles. My flow of creativity is fueled by me bringing my whole self: culture, history, experience, training, vision, and passion to the work I do in the studio, community, and as an administrator. I’m learning how to comfortably represent both.


Similar to an ethnographer, an art administrator explores issues of power, inequality

and inequity through extensive fieldwork in an effort to advocate and empower creative workers. An art administrators’ data collection and methodology can vary from surveys, focus groups, interviews, workshops/webinars, tracking/mapping, funding initiatives, artist-lead actions, and other observations.

This level of fieldwork requires an art administrator to:

  • genuinely believe in the power of art and its ability to inspire change
  • approach the work with a level of openness, curiosity, wonder and excitement
  • be willing to take risks
  • have vision and purpose


In the studio:

I recently closed my solo exhibition, Give and Take in Portland, Maine at the Space Gallery, which was partially funded by Queens Council on the Arts. The exhibition investigates the social meaning of beauty, identity, and cultural authenticity within black womanhood by centering on an all-black figure from whose perspective the viewer follows from youth to maturity. I’m currently working on traveling the show to other cities and I do have a few upcoming group exhibitions in the spring, summer and fall.

I also intend to continue connecting with community members throughout my Queens neighborhood as well as in other cities through my Creative Wellness Gathering Station. Since March 2016, I’ve been conducting a series of social experiments, which channel the knowledge and wisdom of community members to recall remedies and natural methods folks use to heal and cure everyday ailments. Together with my local Queens residents I have developed a collaborative process that uses lively conversation and interactive demonstrations to explore the origin, multi-purpose, and mixing techniques of a selected group of herbs displayed and offered at my wellness station. Participants are able to identify at least one applicable method and create an herbal mix to support their individual wellness needs. While hosting these social investigations, I plan to begin the second phase of the project, which involves the fabrication and photo-documentation of a Creative Wellness community garment.

In the office:

As the Artist Programs Manager of Professional Development at the Joan Mitchell Foundation, one of the national programs I oversee is the Creating A Living Legacy Program (CALL) Program: an intergenerational and social initiative designed to assist mature artists in documenting, organizing, and preserving their life’s work. The lessons we gathered from our fieldwork led to the creation of our first publication, the Career Documentation Guide for Visual Artists in 2012. This was followed by our partnership with the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and the publication of the Estate Planning Workbook for Artists in 2014. In 2015, the Foundation partnered with Voices in Contemporary Art to create the CALL/VoCA Talks a series of public conversations and recordings that feature the stories and work of the CALL Artists.

My focus now is on raising the national awareness and dialogue around the importance and process of preserving the rich cultural legacies of artists in our own communities. I have an interest in connecting with community workers, institutions, organizations, and funders who are deeply invested in capturing and celebrating their own local cultural producers and bearers.

I’m also interested in how history-making, authorship, and advancement of technology is redefining how and who documents, preserves and shares our historical narratives.

I see beginning this advocacy work through conversations: connecting with folks from arts & culture, libraries, academia, business, civil societies, technology, and long-standing community members. I know this new phase of work will challenge and require me to be in full and complete alignment.


Studio work:



Instagram @Shervone_neckles


LinkedIn @ Shervone Neckles



Joan Mitchell Foundation




  • Strengthen your listening skills.
  • Good work, visionary work doesn’t happen in complete isolation- get out of the office/studio, connect with people, have conversations, participate in programs, events, attend workshops (not only as a facilitator but as a participant or observer, volunteer), serve on a board (community/institution). Get involved – be vulnerable – it’s part of the process towards personal and professional growth.
  • Value your work and what you as an individual bring to the work.
  • Counter the feeling of scarcity by being more generous, share your knowledge, information and resources. We are constantly made to feel as though there is never enough. If we all decided to share, there would be an abundance of resources.
  • Let’s rely less on others to provide, fix, or resolve and instead look towards our own communities: there is value in our collective body of knowledge.
  • Be open to feedback, create your own rituals for self-reflection and build a close circle (friends, family, colleagues and mentors) that will offer you honest criticism.







About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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Artists! This QCA Board Member has your back…

This article first appeared in Huffington Post.

Michelle Stoddart is a QCA board member with an inner artist.

As a child growing up surrounded by art, she was fortunate to see how her home and her life became a richer experience because of that.

No matter where her interests took her, Michelle has gravitated to art and found herself involved with the cultural scene in Queens.  She has spent close to 10 years being involved with Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) eventually joining the board of directors.

I was curious.  Why, exactly, is supporting QCA’s work in helping artists important to her?

Here’s our interview:

How does it make you feel to support the Queens Council on the Arts?

Personally, I believe in the arts, the value of art not only to individuals, but to people and the communities where they live.

To be involved with an organization that has a mission to support artists, arts & culture makes me feel I am doing work that is empowering on a multi-dimensional level.  My work with QCA gives an artist the opportunity to share their art, make a business of making art, help communities, inspire others – it supports so much more than 1 person and brings out all kinds of feelings for all involved.

For artists, there is a sense of accomplishment, for neighborhoods, there is a sense of joy when their art is displayed.  And when art contributes to the economic development of Queens and the city, the overall sense of pride cannot be underestimated.

My mom is an artist.

She is self taught and quite accomplished.  I grew up in a home where every inch was covered with artwork.  My bed was covered with her canvases.  She brought me all kinds of art shows, ceremonies and events.  Her work was recognized by the Governor General of Jamaica and presented to the Queen of England.  This is where my love and appreciation for the arts comes from.

When I was in school, many of my teachers were actually her students so I didn’t catch any breaks growing up. I probably rebelled against the artistic expectations people had for me being my mother’s daughter, which caused me to go in other directions.  I didn’t even know if I had any talent.  But just last month, I went to my first Paint & Sip class at a fundraiser and I showed my canvas to my mom who said, “Oh, this is lovely!  You painted this?”

Why was I running from this?  It made me want to delve more deeply into the arts on a personal and professional level.

How would you describe QCA to a friend?

I talk to a range of people everyday and I say 2 things about what QCA does:

  • It supports artists
  • It is a go-to for resources

At our recent board meeting, we talked about QCA being “an umbrella organization” that spurs the development of artist communities and the world of art & culture in Queens.  For me, the most important thing QCA does is provide grants for artists.  Once artists know about QCA, they discover the other resources: the grant writing workshops, the artist talks and networking events. QCA is good about being in different creative spaces around the borough and does a good job bringing creative minds together to share work and find out more information.  Artists can find out how to move forward with a project, how to develop a career as an artist building a successful business, what it takes to do a large city or state funded project.

The best first step for any artist is to go to the resource page on the QCA website and to look for specific topics. Pick up the phone or email for more information and to get some advice about where to go first. Everyone at QCA is very friendly!

What is the one particular thing QCA does that you feel the most strongly about?

I feel the ability for an artist to get a grant is a big draw.  It brings many artists together and shows them other ways they can build community and become more involved.  I believe this is the forefront of our mission.

As a board member, what is your vision for the future of QCA?

I think that our work with emerging artists is critical and must be celebrated in a larger way.

What if, for example, we worked on a project with LaGuardia Airport and committed our next grant cycle towards supporting artists from around Queens to create art that can be included in their new construction.  This could be a multiyear strategy to focus and celebrate the work of boroughwide artists in a specific area, rather than having their work dispersed throughout Queens.  You could think of this almost like a procurement process where you send out an RFP for work.  Over time, this could be done to bring the same concentrated artistic effort to different parts of the borough such as the Rockaways, Jackson Heights, Hollis, etc. until eventually all parts of the borough are involved. I know QCA is already working with developers to make the local artist community an important part of new construction and growth of communities.

In this scenario, QCA will be gathering, supporting, vetting the artists in a greater effort to celebrate the borough’s emerging artists for the benefit of the borough.

And what about working with the diversity in Queens?

I believe QCA must build strong partnerships and advocate with groups such as the Queens Theatre in the Park who champion work by Latin American artists, and Flushing Town Hall, a place known for presenting Asian art and the history of jazz and other American musical forms.  Here again, I see QCA as the “umbrella”, the one who starts, hosts and facilitates conversations.  We are the ones to host breakfast workshops for organizations, big and small, to come together to talk about diversity in our programming, our workforce, our audiences.

QCA’s work is filtered through our strategic plan which guides us to do more of one thing and less of another. Diversity is definitely a priority.


In addition to serving as a board member for QCA, Michelle is a trustee of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning, the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Queens among others.  She is actively involved with the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the Queens Tourism Council, the Queens Museum and many more.


Artists, take note. Michelle has big plans for QCA to make it even easier for you to get grants and get your work out there in a big visionary way.
Hoong Yee







About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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How Thinking Small Can Win You Big Grants

My Indianapolis panelist posse 


This article originally appeared in Huffington Post

It was the first time I had ever sat in front of a roomful of people applying for grants, board members, funders and the curious public who were hanging on every word I said as if their lives depended on it.

Why was this so unnerving?

Well, usually a grant review takes place privately so that the panelists can have an open discussion or sometimes an argument about the proposals sitting on the table.

This was not the case at this Arts Council of Indianapolis grant panel I was invited to be on.

It forced me, as well as the other panelists, to really think about what I felt was truly important to share and how to say it in a public setting before opening my mouth.

I began to notice that all of us were reacting to the same things as we reviewed the stack of grants. For anyone who took notes during the session, there was probably a goldmine of insights they could put to good use in the next grant they wrote.

One particular thing kept coming up over and over again for us.  When we ran across proposals that did this well, you could see our faces light up. And you could see our appreciation reflected in the scores.

Many people think of their proposals as their one shot to do something really big and meaningful.  To reach the widest audience with something for everyone.

Big mistake.

Why? This makes their focus vague.  It makes me wonder how well can you do something if you are doing so much?  And for so many people?

Yet, you want your project to have a big impact.  You feel like you are leaving out so many people and potential audiences when you start to limit who and what your project is for.  You start to wonder if your proposal will not be as appealing if you do less and for less people.

What was that one thing we all liked?

It was the courage to go small and be specific.

Not small in impact, but small in knowing exactly what the project’s intentions are and who they are for.  By going small, I mean setting boundaries around what the single focus of your project is and who it is for.

Jeff Goins, a writer and the creator of Intentional Blogging, a course for writers, offers this advice:

“And if I were to ask you, what do you write about? You might have an answer. But if I were to ask you, what’s the point? What’s your argument? Would you have an answer? This is important. This is something that all great bloggers do is whether it’s explicit or implicit. They’re not just saying something that they believe in. They’re trying to prove a point. They’re trying to convince you of something even if it’s memoir. Even if they’re telling a story, there is some lesson to it. And that’s the objective.

And, so, the question isn’t just, “What are you writing about?” Or, “How are you focusing?” It’s, “What’s the point?” What are you trying to say? What are you trying to convince the reader of?”

The rule of thumb is this: The more you narrow your focus, the more you broaden your audience.

Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

It actually wins you more points because it forces you to go in deep rather that wide.  You will be able to sharpen your focus and give greater detail and specificity to why it is so important, who it is for and how it will happen.

Think about it.

Here we are, a group of 5 people from around the country who don’t know much about the art scene in Indiana, making decisions about who gets a grant and who doesn’t.  This is something many people don’t think about – it is so important for you to always assume nobody knows who you are.  Write your proposal with a few simple, clear goals and a distinct audience we can see in our mind.  The more specific you can be, the more detailed a picture you can paint for us, the better.

Here’s 3 things to help you get started:

Pick 1 outcome

Ask yourself a tough question:  Why are you doing this?

Here’s a hint: Your answer should be about making life better or more beautiful for someone.

Do you create art to awaken a sense of wonder in your viewer?  Will the story you write encourage someone to open their mind to new experiences?

A person looking at your painting or listening to your music must feel something that changes them.

See the change

Think of what you want someone to look like, sound like and talk like after experiencing your art.  Are they inspired?  Do they see colors differently?  Will they go home and think about all of the journeys made by people to make it possible for them to call this place their home?

Once you know this, you can create a project that best delivers this outcome to these people.

Do less, better

Everything you do must move you closer to delivering this outcome.  To making it possible for people to change. Do more of this.  Anything else is not necessary.


Hoong Yee







About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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