Multi-Hyphenate and Multi-Platform: Michaela Ternasky-Holland and the Mixed Asian Media Festival
Michaela Ternasky-Holland is proudly multi-hyphenate in her interests and her career. She is a creative strategist, consultant, dancer, documentarian, public speaker, and storyteller. Currently, she is working with Mixed Asian Media Festival to present a wide-ranging collection of work made by and about mixed Asian creators.
For many artists and professional creatives, inspiration comes from attending art school or a formal residency. For Ternasky-Holland, one turning point was booking a contract with Disney Cruise Line as a dancer. It was “a residency, a study abroad, and a degree in and of itself.” Combined with her journalism studies at U.C. Irvine, she became interested in the relationship between storytelling and audience experience
After working in VR [virtual reality] for major media outlets like Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and People Magazine, she realized she wanted to tell stories that were about social justice, centering BIPOC subjects and creators.
Now, Ternasky-Holland sees herself as a compassionate storyteller in the stories she helps to tell, how she helps to tell them, and who is involved in the telling process. “[It’s] not just the story that I'm presenting, but also how are we engaging and employing people of those communities to work on the story; to have a voice in the story? [The work is] really breaking apart the white supremacy and the unbiased structure of journalism and applying that into the world of immersive, emerging technologies and immersive, interactive performance art mediums.”
She discusses the value of immersive storytelling, mixed identities, Mixed Asian Media Festival, and the ways that she believes festivals can support artists by accepting more submissions in more expansive categories.
Why does thinking about immersive audience experience feel important to you as opposed to watching a play, reading a book, or the more uni-directional, traditional way of experiencing art?
Humans are active! Not just physically active, but mentally and emotionally active. I want the energy of what we're trying to portray [to be] authentic to the story we are trying to tell and to match the energy of humans in a day-to-day world. And I don't think as humans, we are always built and trained to sit perfectly in a space and only observe, never touch.
Think about the physical reality. You wake up in a bed, you get out of that bed and you are active in your kitchen environment, in your bathroom environment, in your room environment. You leave your room, you leave your apartment, you leave your home. The physical world has so many places for you to go and so many things to do.
The work that I lean towards is the extension of the physical reality into the digital reality. People are already jumping from platform to platform. You wake up, you check your email, then you get into Slack, then you're on your Instagram, then you're checking notifications on Twitter. Now suddenly you're on a phone call with someone, you're on a Zoom with somebody.
We're starting to acclimate ourselves to the same type of transition of spaces and transitions of platforms like we are already acclimated to a physical world and a physical reality. So the idea around jumping from platform to platform or even having multiplatform storytelling or engaging people in a 3D environment is not to say the physical world is something we're trying to leave behind. It's trying to bring some behaviors and habits that feel very human and feel very natural into the digital world.
If I'm expecting someone to engage with content with me for at least 20 minutes, I don't want that content to all just be on Instagram. It could all just be on Instagram, but does that feel as engaging or as interesting as putting together a multiplatform experience that goes from Instagram to Twitter, to a website? That's the type of storytelling that interests me as long as it feels authentic to the story you're telling.
I'm very technology agnostic. I don't [think that] every single story I'm helping tell from every single community should be in VR. It's a constant blend of mediums and that can even go for physical experiences. My background is with Disney Cruise Line and Disneyland, and it was a very physical environment. The difference between going into the large Broadway theater versus sitting in a small little Kids Club Theater, two very different environments. But [Disney] built those environments very specifically for the audience and then told stories on top of [those environments]. I don't live in a medium.
Let's talk a little bit about Hapa Mag and the Asian Media Festival. Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of the magazine and how you got involved?
Hapa Mag was founded by the editor in chief, Alex Chester [in 2017]. She started from a blog called “Me So Hapa.” She was looking for a world where she felt seen and where she could have her stories shown in a way that felt authentic to her, especially being a part of the entertainment industry as an actor. Since then it's grown and expanded. [I came on as a consultant in 2019].
With a lot of what's happened in the recent months is there's this coming together around ideology. The word "Hapa," what does it represent? Where is it from? For a lot of half Asian, half white humans, that is how they identify. But we also realized as a staff that Hapa was also in itself an appropriation from the Hawaiian native language and Indigenous culture and a lot of half Japanese, half white folks call themselves Hafus. We realized “Hapa” is just not indicative of the whole mixed Asian community.
[We thought,] “Why don't we create a new entity that's rising up and out of Hapa Mag and put Hapa Mag out of commission? And what would that new entity be?” We want to create our own web series. We want to create original video content, original podcasting content the word "mag" doesn't lend itself to that.
There's been a big push around rebranding, which we are continuing to do for 2021. And the rebrand is going to be Mixed Asian Media to cover the whole umbrella of what we are trying to do in the future as a mixed racial organization.
It started off as [us asking] could we do a mixed Asian media film festival? And I was like, “Yes, but why just make it film?” There's mixed Asians out there doing theater performance VR, AR, podcast, digital media, web series. And we want this to be a creative festival where everyone can come, everyone can be celebrated, everyone can be seen, everyone can network, and everyone can start to see each other.
Mixed Asian Media Festival is a creative festival that just celebrates both domestic as well as international Asian multi-racial humans who are doing creative things. We have a film category for narrative and documentary and a theatrical category. We have a new media entry point.
It’s going to happen from September 15 - 19 and I think it's going to be one of the first of its kind. Not to celebrate race, but to celebrate creativity, not to harp on the fact that we're marginalized, but to actually come together and celebrate the fact that we are creative, amazing humans. To me, that’s part of Asian joy; part reclaiming who we are and what we can be. And that we're not too white or not too Asian are not too Black or not too Filipino, but that we're just who we are as a culture. And we're very specific in our own ways. We don't identify necessarily with the countries that our families came from. We're purely American as much as we're purely Asian.
It’s a fun, amazing project. I'm so excited to be able to usher in the inaugural festival year for this and hopefully watch it continue to grow and expand year after year.
You're creating this community that has a number of specific experiences, but it's not ultimately hemmed in by that; it becomes this generative thing. Is there anything else you want to add about why mixedness feels like a generative framework or a powerful framework for you and the rest of the crew?
We've been talking a lot about the recent downfalls of the American society, we've been talking a lot about Black Lives Matter. We've been talking a lot about Stop Asian Hate. And what we realize as mixed humans is that we can be that bridge. We're not necessarily going to heal the world, but the fact that we can even exist safely and the fact that we can have dialogue safely…
I have a half Filipino, half Black mentee that I'm currently working with and the fact that he can speak fully to his Black Lives Matter experience and then also fully to his Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate experience. We have so many beautiful mixed race humans that understand and know so much about Black culture and understand and know so much about Asian culture embedded in their blood and embedded into their system, embedded into their cells, to me, is the foundational point of the gray area. That to me is the foundational point of finding compromise. That to me is a foundational point of bringing together those communities.
My hope and dream for this creative festival is that it's not only a way for mixed Asians to see each other and be seen by each other, but also those communities they come from that are more monolithically Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese or monolithically more white or Black or Latinx would also be able to come together then start to see each other as humans and not necessarily see each other under the guise of race or under the guise of classism or under the guise of industrialization of like, “I do this, you do that.” That's even the next level power of multiracialism.
You have all of these entry points and these genres for the festival. What are the thoughts that you are having as you're thinking about curating the festival? What are you looking for? What are you excited by?
The rules of entry are literally [that there is a] multiracial human as a part of your creative, your producerorial, or your talent team. So, it leaves it up to a lot of interpretation.
In the film world, multiracial humans that are presented on camera and multiracial narratives would be the ideal. But we know that's not always the case. When it comes to theatrical performances, we're really excited to see comedy. We're excited to see how people dealt with the pandemic. We're also looking at live performances to have throughout the virtual experience. It's a five-day festival, we want this to be robust. We're interested in curating speaker content, panel content, discussion content. We're looking for people who can help represent industries that aren't as accessible to artists or creatives. [We’re] looking at the Creative Capital environment or even the Fractured Atlas environment and having real conversations around budgeting, real conversations around funding, real conversations about self-promotion and self-marketing.
We're really excited [when] people reach out to us to say, “Hey, I'm a fashion designer. Would I be able to submit a photo gallery of my clothes?” And I'm like, “Yes!” If you're creative, if you have a way of expressing yourself, submit to the festival, we'll figure it out. We've been hearing a lot of people saying, “I didn't have funding to make a whole film or to make a whole theatrical performance. But I have a working script and I'm multiracial or mixed Asian.” That in of itself is going to inform the fact that maybe we'll do a lab experience where we have 10 working scripts that we're going to connect to a group of mixed Asian actors, and then they're going to get together and do a whole lab experience that we're just going to be able to record and watch during the festival. What I love about it is that we're using templates, we're using frameworks, but we're making it fully our own.
We are really just like boba and McDonald's fries, like that's what we say. We're going to take things that we know as multiracial humans and blend them together, even if it doesn't seem like they go together. We are constantly the people that are seeing how certain things don't fit together yet could fit together in a really beautiful way.
When people are reaching out and you're finding the ways that the categories are not supporting your community, that's giving you the information to figure out what the right container is for this work.
We didn't even think about fashion designers! We didn't even think about working scripts! But we're not sitting here saying that because we've been doing this for years, we don't accept that. We're more like, “Yeah, if it's cool, let's do it. Let's put it on display.” I also know that as a working independent artist, it's just as important to have a festival laurel on the front page of my deck or on my website as it is to have a premiere somewhere. So like, I'd much rather give away laurels for really great content or content that is in the works, than be like, “I'm sorry, we can't accept that.” That's the beauty of the World Wide Web.
That's why I don't understand why online festivals [still accept so few submissions]. You literally are creating an online platform. Way more opportunity and financial potential open up to [artists] with a festival logo or a festival laurel on their front page of whatever marketing materials they have. How could you not accept at least 30 or 40 or 50 and keep it open for six months for everyone to explore all that content? You already built the platform! You already spent the money! To only keep that to 14 little pngs and 14 hyperlinks to me makes no sense because the digital environment is a web-based, cloud-based experience. You can expand that and grow that for the betterment of the community.
I would much rather 60 films that stay open for five months or two months, even if it's not the five days of the festival so people can say “I got this laurel from Hapa Magazine, I was in the running for Mixed Asian Media’s New Media Award,” anything they could do to continue to work on their project is so important to me. And that to me is actually what institutions should be there for, not gatekeepers. They should definitely be legitimizers.
What are your hopes for the future, the festival or for Mixed Asian Media more generally?
Currently we have a call for sponsors. We are going to open an Indiegogo just to help support that little push. We want to pay every speaker, every panelist, every moderator. That's a big reason why we're raising funds, not just to support our staff, but to give honorariums and thank people for their time and energy being a part of the festival.
We have a call for speakers and panelists and workshops so if you're multiracial or mixed Asian and you have a really cool workshop about painting or coloring or growing up in America or a comedy sketch, just reach out to us. We're also having a call for a project review committee. So if you want to be a part of our committee who's reviewing these projects, you don't have to be mixed Asian necessarily, we would love to talk to you about volunteering some time with us.
As far as the hopes for Mixed Asian Media, I think I wanted to become a hub for [creativity]. I would love to see a Mixed Asian Media fashion show. I would love to see a Mixed Asian Media Netflix series. I'd love to see a Mixed Asian Media VR experience, [I’m] thinking of us not just as a journalistic entity, but as a production company, as a creative voice in the community of not just creative arts, but also mainstream arts or mainstream content; cultural advisers. If someone like BuzzFeed is trying to build out some sort of multiracial content, they would bring Mixed Asian Media on board as consultants or have us come on board and help produce, direct or advise.
International collaborations would be epic. I know there's a lot of really great multiracial communities in the UK and Europe and Africa and Asia and in Australia. Finding where we all exist would be awesome.
I would love to see the festival grow into an in-person festival. I'd love the festival to be able to make its own income standing on its two legs, but then have a lot of those proceeds go back to our community. For example, we would love to set up a Chinatown fund for Chinatowns all over the US to give back to the community we come from and think of it as a holistic part of the economic system, not just another corporate entity or a company entity.
We could think of this as a nontraditional festival. What would stop us from having a gallery in New York, a screening in Austin, a premiere in Alaska, a fashion show in Montana? There's no limits to what could happen with what we're doing today and how we'll continue to grow and expand tomorrow.
I'm always down to talk to anyone who has questions, comments, concerns, thoughts, because I want to continue to grow and expand. I can't claim that I know it all. I can't claim that I have it all figured out. So if anyone wants to connect, I'm more than happy to connect and explore and learn and collaborate and cultivate relationships and thought processes with other people.
You can follow Michaela Ternasky-Holland on her website as well as on Twitter and Instagram. Keep up with Mixed Asian Media Festival on their website, Instagram, and on FilmFreeway. To see when their crowdfunding campaign goes live, sign up for updates.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Content Specialist at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.