Dedicated to Promoting Folk Arts and Chinese Traditions
Mencius Society for the Arts is devoted to the advance of traditional and folk arts as rooted (primarily, though by no means exclusively) in the Chinese tradition. We are committed to fostering the enduring vitality of genuine community through lifelong practice in the arts. We are driven by the mission to help build a diverse, compassionate, and more equitable American society.
Founding and History
Mencius Society for the Arts is named for the philosopher Mengzi (“Mencius“), who advocated social contract and personal cultivation as keys to a humane society. Mencius Society for the Arts is devoted to fostering life-long practice and engagement in music and theatrical arts and to giving voice and building agency on behalf of local communities. Our organization is committed to the teaching and performance of folk and traditional arts with a special focus on Chinese folk music, theatre, storytelling, calligraphy, and martial arts. As a redress of the inequity and social alienation that come with the digital era our programs emphasize oral transmission and local, in-person and mixed-aged interaction. We seek to valorize bi- and trans- lingualism as we pursue translation and documentation as key instruments for inter-generational and -cultural transmission in building a diverse, compassionate, and more equitable American society.
Founded in 2003, Mencius began as a musical group (later to be named East River Ensemble) composed of immigrant artists from North China. Headquartered on Grand Street in the heart of Chinatown for the first 15 years, Mencius Society for the Arts has evolved to be a well-recognized local hub, in essence, providing a wide range of learning and performance programs in traditional/folk arts for all ages, as well as consultation and translation services.
Mencius strives to be a local space where creativity enlivens tradition and where folks code-switch, translate, revise and refine meaning, and make genuine connections.
Mencius is, by all accounts, the only arts organization dedicated to the advance of both southern and northern Chinese musical arts in New York City (and possibly on the US East Coast). We are also the first and only Chinese orchestra program that provides free lessons to youth and seniors year-round in New York, Manhattan.
Partnership with Grand Street Settlement
In 2019, the Mencius Society for the Arts entered a strategic partnership with Grand Street Settlement (GSS). Mencius was in need of program space, with the organization’s longtime Chinatown headquarters becoming prohibitively expensive. GSS sought dynamic programming for its new Essex Crossing Community Center—as the lead community partner in New York City’s historic Essex Crossing development project, GSS has the opportunity to launch a new, intergenerational hub within the Francis Goldin Senior Apartments (99 affordable rental residences for low-income seniors). This vital new partnership marks a critical turning point for Mencius as we have since given to draw on GSS’s infrastructural resources, receive mentorship and support, and establish stability in a new home.
Mencius primarily serves the immigrant communities living in Manhattan’s Chinatown and LES, predominantly recent immigrant families whose primary language is Mandarin or Cantonese who find themselves on the margins of mainstream America. We address the challenges of low-income and multi-generational housing, such as space limitation, lack of leisure or sleep time for youth, and sometimes absentee parents and domestic alienation as youth are left to themselves while parents work. Drawing on the founders’ organic connection with Chinese and SE Asian diasporas, MSA has an unbroken record of services in Cantonese opera, providing for scores of folk musicians and vocalists (otherwise mostly low-wage workers and retirees) to convene weekly in relaxed ‘open-mic’ sessions and bi-annual concerts at the New York Chinese Community Center. In the fall of 2019, MSA became an arts service partner with Grand Street Settlement (GSS) and began providing services within the GSS community in exchange for low-cost space at their Essex Street Crossing facility. This expanded our programming to include recreational arts for an adult/senior population predominantly Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and Spanish-speaking in the immediate Lower Eastside vicinity, served by GSS. It has also presented opportunities for new programmed activities fostering intergenerational interaction between our folk artists and the youth (LES Preparatory HS) and children as part of GSS’s provision of afterschool and daycare services.
Our organization aspires to be a global setting where creativity enlivens tradition and where people establish sincere connections. We provide a platform for traditional arts to continue to thrive and evolve in our diverse and vibrant community.
Rooted primarily in Chinese tradition, our offerings extend to other folk arts as well, in the belief that each tradition is a thread in the beautiful tapestry of human creativity.
We are committed to fostering the enduring vitality of genuine community through lifelong practice in the arts.
We facilitate a range of classes where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of Cantonese Opera, explore the depth of Cantonese Folk Arts, or learn the Chinese language through the medium of music. Our classes are designed to encourage active participation, promote cultural understanding, and build community.
Mencius Society For The Arts
Mencius Society For The Arts’ primary activities include year-round weekly practice sessions of the Chinese Orchestra. We also facilitate Cantonese Opera Club-offered annual, seasonal, and on-demand classes and workshops.
We are proud to be the only arts service organization dedicated to the progress of both southern and northern Chinese musical arts in New York City.
At Mencius Society For The Arts, we are driven by a mission to help build a diverse, compassionate, and more equitable society. We believe in the transformative power of the arts to inspire, educate, and bring people together.
We invite you to join us on this journey. Explore our offerings and learn more about our classes today.