Since 1976, Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu have pioneered Asian American Art. Founders and directors of First Voice, they believe that culture creates a nation’s psychology and that in order for us to live together in peace, artists of color are essential to carving a place in the psyche of this nation. First Voice creates, presents, and produces the stories and music of people living between worlds. Critical to this mission is personal experience, or “voice,” emanating from a deeply rooted community of color, which we deem to be essential to the authentic representation of the people of the United States.
Core Programs and Services
First Voice produces, presents, tours, publishes, and records original work that incorporates Asian theatre (Noh & Kyogen) and music (Gagaku) and spoken word traditions into classically American art forms like jazz and contemporary performance art.
First Voice produces stage performances revolving around issues of home, family, and place, centering the rich history and perspectives of multiracial people in San Francisco. First Voice’s artworks debut in San Francisco and then tour the world, in such venues as Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, International House Tokyo, the Esplanade in Singapore, and the Hong Kong Cultural Center. Its performances like Uncle Gunjiro’s Girl Friend (1998, 2016); MU (2013), Suite J-Town (2015), and Aunt Lily’s Flower Book: 100 Years of Legalized Racism (2017, 2018) have resonated with audiences from Iowa to Japan and inspired fans to undertake deeper research into their own roots, honor their ancestors, and build community among one another for decades.
Since the 1980s, First Voice has mentored young artists. We produced the Asian American Jazz Festival (1980–2000). Brenda and Mark became founding faculty members of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford.
Today, we are mentoring emerging musicians from Little Tokyo and other Asian Pacific Island artists by producing their work in our San Francisco studio, in storefronts in Japantown, and our online platforms. We are proud to say we gave 20 Covid-relief mini-grants to artists of color during Shelter in Place.
Brenda was selected for a Hewlett 50 Arts Commission to create J-town, Chinatown: Our Town with the Center for Asian American Media, for premiere in Spring 2022. She was the only San Franciscan playwright selected and the only one who is writing about the City.
First Voice was highlighted as one of 40 artists organizations honored on the 40th anniversary of the CAC.
Who We Serve
Our audience is intersectional, multigenerational, and as diverse as the endlessly rich experiences of multiracial people living between worlds.
Your Donation Helps Support:
At this time when hate is on the rise and Chinatown and Japantown San Francisco, the cradle of Asian American culture, are endangered, First Voice has determined its best worth is in giving voice to the AAPI community, supporting fellow BIPOC artists, and representing and articulating that voice to a worldwide audience.
About Brenda & Mark
First Voice’s work is inspired by San Francisco; the birthplace of Asian American culture. First Voice’s artworks debut in San Francisco and then tour the world. Co-Directors, Brenda Wong Aoki and Mark Izu have family ties to Japantown and Chinatown that go back 123 years. Brenda’s grandfather was a founder of Japantown, San Francisco, the first Japanese settlement in America and her grandmother was a leader of the first Chinatown Garment Union.
To learn more visit: http://www.firstvoice.org/