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Design in Community – Shin Yu Pai

Design in Community

The Seattle Design Festival tells a story. This story culminates in an annual celebration of our design community each summer, but the connections we forge within that community, and the stories they have to share, last throughout the year. Follow along with Design in Community as we highlight some of the design stories from our community through photos and sounds.


A desire to create connections across communities allows Seattle-based poet, Shin Yu Pai, to push her artistic boundaries. Pai is an accomplished artist, award-winning author, the first Asian American Civic Poet of Seattle (2023-2024), and part-time KUOW producer of her podcast, Ten Thousand Things.

Spanning a career working in non-profits and in the arts, Pai held a simultaneous creative background. She produced events, wrote books, and directed performances. Her practice as an artist ranges widely, but Pai found herself loving the poetic language-based medium since she started writing poetry in her late teens.

As a child of Taiwanese immigrants, Pai longed to connect with her parents – in particular, her mother, who came to the United States much later in life and had not really learned English. “Poetry seemed like this beautiful imaginative space where somehow that could be the common ground or place in which we could meet and find one another,” Pai reflects.

Pai thinks a lot about how her craft is being expressed in the world. Visiting museums with her family encompassed a large part of Pai’s childhood. This informed her poetry through the visual arts and found its way to deepen Pai’s relationship with her mother, who is a visual artist.

“I don’t think that books have to just be on the page,” Pai says. “They can be sculptural, they can be three dimensional, and they can have all these other aspects of the physical sensual tactile experience for the artist.”

Tapping into the imaginative possibilities excites Pai. Earlier in her career, Pai leaned into using her imagination to create work that is meant for the body to creatively engage the audience’s senses. Motherhood shifted Pai’s perspective on her craft. She started exploring how people experience the physical spaces where poetry lives.

For Pai, seeking to understand the relationship between humans and poetic spaces reinforces her connection to her own human experience. Especially so at a time when artificial intelligence is increasingly weaving itself into the everyday lives for many.

“I’m so anti-digital. I don’t really drive, I like to walk or take the bus. And I think it’s part of this kind of approach to life of wanting to feel connected to everything that I do or experience,” Pai notes. “I feel like being human is really important.”

Pai’s new collection of poems, No Neutral, offers an authentic desire to convey what others may not be able to. Written during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pai’s latest work sheds light on what it means to navigate her space as an Asian American woman. Through the written form, Pai shows up and offers a direct voice to her community.

“This set of poems gets bolder and a little bit louder,” Pai states. “Writing on social issues more directly and honestly […] is grounded into who I’ve been evolving into, my activism sensibilities, and what I’m thinking about right now,” she adds.

Curiosity remains at the forefront for Pai, as witnessed through the multidisciplinary application in her work. To Pai, staying curious doesn’t mean moving away from one’s core practice. Rather, bearing a curious mindset enhances one’s application towards their artistic endeavor. “I think having that curiosity [can] tie the loose ends together for one’s self to sort of understand the full range of what a creative life and what a creative practice can be.”

This story was captured by En Ning, one of our amazing Design in Community volunteers. Visit our volunteer page to learn more about this opportunity!