Asian Improv aRts Midwest - Over 20 Years of Highlights

AIRMW History

In 1984, Chicago artist and community leader Tatsu Aoki founded Innocent Eyes and Lenses (IEL) in response to the need for an organization that was dedicated to presenting Asian American artists and programs that were relevant to the community. Since then, IEL, an Illinois-based non-profit organization, has been a leading force in presenting the Asian American experience through the arts in Illinois.

A New Name
After 20 years of working as IEL, we made the decision to change our name from Innocent Eyes and Lenses to Asian Improv aRts Midwest in 2004. This change was made in order to reflect the community that IEL has been serving since its inception as well as to recognize the partnership that has been established with the San Francisco-based Asian Improv aRts. Founded by musician and community activist Francis Wong, Asian Improv aRts has been a leader in building community through the Asian American cultural arts on the West Coast for two decades and we are honored to be a part of the Asian Improv family.

AIRMW has had tremendous success in connecting artists, community organizations and the city's cultural institutions and has presented programs featuring world-class artistry while remaining rooted in the Chicago Asian American community. AIRMW has collaborated with and/or received support from organizations that include the Japanese American Service Committee (JASC), the Jazz Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Illinois Arts Council, the Illinois Humanities Council, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Boeing Corporation, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago Foundation and Meet The Composer among many others.

Asian Improv aRts Midwest - Over 20 Years of Highlights

Innocent Eyes and Lenses 1984

Chicago musician and community leader Tatsu Aoki founds Innocent Eyes and Lenses (IEL), an Illinois-based non-profit organization

Produced Jikken Eiga: The Annual Japanese Experimental Film Tour, presented in up to 10 cities nationwide every year.

KIOTO Tatsu Aoki 1993

San Francisco-based Asian Improv Records releases Tatsu Aoki's album Kioto, marking the first collaboration between Chicago and San Francisco's Asian American music leaders.

1995 - Asian American Jazz Players Series at the Bop Shop

Asian American Jazz Players Series at the Bop Shop, Chicago, IL: an 8 week performance series featuring Asian American musicians and marking the first Chicago performance of West Coast musicians Francis Wong and Glenn Horiuchi.

Produced the Asian American Music Compilation CD, Sounds Like 1996, with support from Arts Midwest.

Fall 1996 - present Produced the Annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival featuring artists that include pianist Jon Jang, multiple percussionist Max Roach, saxophonist Francis Wong, tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain, multiple percussionist Dr. Anthony Brown, pianist/vocalist Yoko Noge, violinist Jason Kao Hwang, saxophonist Fred Anderson, multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden, pipa artist Wu Man komungo artist Jin Hi Kim and percussionist Susie Ibarra. Performances presented at venues that include the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center and the HotHouse.

JASC 150

IEL collaborates with organizations including the Japanese American Service Committee to present "Reminiscing in Swingtime - Japanese Americans in American Popular Music, 1926-1960" at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Produced the US-Japan 150 Festival in collaboration with the JASC and the Japanese Consulate General.

Taiko Legacy 2004

Initiated the JASC Tsukasa Taiko Legacy program, establishing a community-based arts residency at the JASC for teaching taiko (Japanese drumming) and traditional/classical Japanese music.

Produced the First Annual Chicago Taiko Legacy event, featuring live performances, lecture/demonstrations and discussions with Chicago's Tsukasa Daiko and Melody Takata of San Francisco's Gen Taiko.

IEL changes its name to Asian Improv aRts Midwest (AIRMW), reflecting its relationship with San Francisco's Asian Improv aRts.

AIRMW moves into its new office in downtown Chicago's historic Fine Arts Building, working closely with the Jazz Institute of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

AIRMW produces the 10th Annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival, producing over 4 weeks of programs, including the 2nd Annual Chicago Taiko Legacy event, at venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, the HotHouse and Links Hall.

10th Annual Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival

Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz, Asia-Chicago.
Tatsu Aoki's re:Rooted Project is the culmination of an exploration of Asian identity and cultural intergration in three different communities. Marrying traditional and unconventional musical instruments and forms; the Re:Rooted Project also blends the unique perspectives of older and younger generations of musicians. The concert features pianist Jon Jang and saxophonist Francis Wong.

Tatsu Aoki's Re: Rooted

Tatsu Aoki's Miyumi Project and JASC Tsukasa Taiko travel to Poznan, Poland to participate in the first Made in Chicago: Poland tour. The Miyumi Project and JASC Tsukasa Taiko were part of a roster of over a dozen artists that represented the diversity of the Chicago jazz and new music scenes.

Asian Improv aRts Midwest co-produces the first Asian American Jazz Festival to take place outside of the US with Asian American Jazz: Poznan. Produced in collaboration with the Malta International Theatre Festival, Asian American Jazz: Poznan featuring 8 Chicago, San Francisco, and European-based Asian American artists and their collaborators.

Asian Improv aRts Midwest produces the Fifth Annual Chicago Taiko Legacy at the MCA, featuring two nights of sold out performances, artist residencies and master classes. Guest artists included Chicago's Ho Etsu Taiko, Fujima Ryu of Chicago, Chicago musician/composer Mwata Bowden, Melody Takata of San Francisco's Gen Taiko, Bay Area performance artist Dohee Lee, New York violinist/composer Jonathan Chen, and from Tokyo, Japan, shamisen masters Chizuru KIneya and Satomayu Kineya.