Sri Lankan Art & Cultural Museum in New York
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
My name is Julia Wijesinghe. I’m 18 years old and I was born in Queens, New York. As I was raised by Sri Lankan parents, the values of culture were instilled in me from a young age. My parents met each other on the famous ferry ride in New York City and have been living here for the past thirty years. Coming back to me, I’m just an ordinary girl who has a passion for dancing. I’ve been dancing since I was three and my favorite styles include ballet, jazz, tap, Indian, and of course Sri Lankan. I am able to express myself through dance and I guess you could say it takes me to my happy place.
What inspired you to set up your own museum?
Simply put, my inspiration would be my goals and dreams that I have aspired to achieve since I was fifteen years old. My parents have done a lot for the Sri Lankan community, including the opening of the first Sri Lankan restaurant in the USA, here in New York City. So as a result of seeing them take pride in their culture, it inspired me to do something on my own to represent my country as well. Although I was raised in the States, my parents took me to Sri Lanka every year. This gave me the opportunity to experience Sri Lanka’s historic sights and rich heritage.
As New York is a hub for arts and multiple cultures, what do you think sets your museum apart from the rest?
As New York is a cultural melting pot, my museum stands out for what it represents. New York is a great place to share your culture with people from all over the world, show them who you are and what you represent. So I had a feeling that opening up the museum at New York was the best decision I ever made, along with the combination of my Dad’s restaurant right above it.
What were the steps you had to take to make this a reality and how long did it take?
Let’s just say there were a lot of steps and the outcome was just an enormous achievement. But it took about three years to settle everything down.
We understand that you have a Sri Lankan buffet along with the museum experience, how did you come up with the idea to fuse the two?
As my dad’s restaurant normally has a buffet on the weekends, I thought it would be great to have the museum open with the same timings so that the customers who come over would be able to experience traditional Sri Lankan food while learning a little about our culture and heritage as well. So I think the fusion of the two is a perfect way for people to experience a little bit about Sri Lanka.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had to face along the way?
Some of the biggest challenges I had to face were not only to establish the museum and get it up and running but also to take the responsibility of opening up the first Sri Lankan museum abroad. It is not easy to open up a museum in New York. Another challenge was to gather all the artifacts and artwork that I required that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my father, who also helped to organize everything the way I pictured it.
What is your ultimate objective by setting up this museum?
Even though I was brought up in New York my whole life, my parents influence of Sri Lankan cultural values and history made me feel unique from everyone else which is why I wanted to share this with everyone.
If you have a message for Sri Lankan youth both abroad and at home, what would it be?
My message to the Sri Lankan Youth abroad and at home would be that we should always care for each other and always unite as a family and show the world what we are made of. You should also always muster a smile and bring light to anyone you see because you never know when you’ll make someone’s day even brighter.