On Friday and Saturday, November 11 and 12, JANM will be hosting the second annual Kollaboration EMPOWER Conference. Launched in 2015 by Kollaboration, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in creative industries, the EMPOWER conference offers a weekend of panel discussions, mentoring sessions, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities aimed at bringing together aspiring young artists and more established professionals. The conference’s goal is to bridge communities, generations, industries, and innovative minds.
To learn more about the conference and its origins, we interviewed Christine Minji Chang, Executive Director of Kollaboration.
JANM: Why the name “Kollaboration”?
Christine Minji Chang: Kollaboration has its roots in the Korean American community—it was founded by standup comedian Paul “PK” Kim in 2000 as a platform for aspiring Korean American artists to share their talents. (Fun fact—Ben Chung of the Kinjaz, formerly the Jabbawockeez, performance group was the one who coined our name.)
Over time, we expanded the organization and the movement to represent the pan-Asian American Pacific Islander community, but the name stuck. It still speaks on a larger level to what we stand for: empowering the AAPI community and improving diversity in media by working together—whether that’s across ethnicity, geographical region, cultural background, or artistic genre.
JANM: How did the EMPOWER Conference come about?
CMC: This conference was a long time coming and a very collective manifestation of ideas that grew over time through conversations between Kollaboration volunteers and artists. I personally started volunteering with Kollaboration San Francisco in 2009, and I remember dreaming out loud with my colleagues about creating an event where we could get advice from entertainment professionals—both for the artists that we supported in our shows and for ourselves as creative leaders who might not want to perform on a stage.
I had long dreamed of pursuing acting, but the whole idea had always been so daunting and obscure. How do I start? What do I prioritize? How do I talk to my family and friends about it? The media industry has always been an unknown universe for most AAPIs—it’s not explored or encouraged as much as medicine, law, or engineering.
So through multiple conversations, brainstorming sessions, and networking, our amazing Kollaboration Los Angeles team took the plunge in 2015 to pilot our first EMPOWER Conference. We got 40 entertainment professionals to volunteer to share their wisdom and insight with a small but passionate audience. I was completely blown away and humbled to see this idea come to life right before my eyes. It was an amazing team effort, and I’m very proud of what we’ve started for the AAPI community.
JANM: Describe the people that you feel should come to this conference.
CMC: I think this conference is accessible for almost all AAPIs who are just starting out and/or curious about working in the entertainment industry. They can get ground-zero insights into various aspects of different industries, and how to best pursue different paths. The conversations will range from how to utilize various programs and resources, to how to navigate emotional and mental journeys in a tough industry that’s just starting to prioritize diverse stories.
EMPOWER is also a place where seasoned professionals can come to network and get up to date on trends and technology in the entertainment and media industries, which are constantly evolving. We want this conference to be a gathering place for ambitious and creative minds to meet, build relationships, and expand their skill sets. We also want folks to be open to learning new things, not just from industry panels but from hands-on workshops that will make them jump out of their comfort zones and build confidence in public speaking, improv comedy, auditioning, and more.
JANM: Can you give us a few highlights or favorite moments from last year’s inaugural conference?
CMC: One highlight was having Bing Chen as our keynote speaker. He is extremely smart and charismatic and has been a force of nature not only for the AAPI creative community, but for the millennial generation as a whole. He founded the YouTube Partner Program, which revolutionized artistic expression and visibility for AAPI artists. Without that, who knows how long AAPIs would have continued to create art in obscurity or struggled to find outlets for their voices. Bing got up on stage and spoke candidly and passionately, holding nothing back; it was a great moment of inspiration for everyone present.
A favorite moment of mine came from Tamlyn Tomita during our keynote panel. Tamlyn has been navigating Hollywood for decades, and is a hero of mine for being such a talented actress who’s made a name for herself in an industry and society that has been neither kind nor concerned about her representation. She was very vulnerable and fiery, encouraging everyone in the audience to face their personal fears of rejection and challenge definitions of success. She spoke so strongly that she was brought to tears, and so was I. The emotion was palpable in the room, and we felt empowered by her belief in us.
There were so many great moments! Another occurred during our writing panel, which I wasn’t present for the entire time. Mike Golamco, then a writer for NBC, shared with me how a young woman confided in him that after hearing him speak that day, she finally dared to call herself a writer. I could see how much that meant to Mike, and it was very clear to both of us that there was a lot more that we could do with this event. I’m so excited for this second conference and to be honest, I’m already planning our third!
The second annual Kollaboration EMPOWER Conference will take place at JANM Friday–Saturday, November 11–12. For more information and to register, visit empower.kollaboration.org. For more information about the organization, visit kollaboration.org.