Spotlight: Amy Green, Executive Director, Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum
Amy Green has spent most of her career working in museums and non-profit organizations supporting the arts. So it was meant to be when she moved to the Pacific Northwest for a job. That gig didn’t quite work out, but she happily leaped in when the perfect opportunity arose. She now blends her passion for textile arts with her museum and non-profit experience to lead the Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, Washington.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do.
I am the Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum in La Conner, WA. I’ve been here now for five years. Because we are a very small staff, I am involved in all aspects of administration and fund-raising more than perhaps Directors at other Museums. I like that because it really keeps my days diversified.
Have you always wanted to do museum work? What led you to where you are now?
I never really dreamed of having a career in the Museum field, but I have dreamed of having a fiber arts center for many years. I have over 25 years of nonprofit management experience, mostly in arts organizations. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I worked at a multi-disciplinary arts center for 8 years before moving on to run a small Foundation in Sedona, AZ.
A few years later I ended up working at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM for 6 years before I found myself in the Pacific Northwest. I moved up here to start a job with another nonprofit, which really couldn’t afford staff, so I recommended they lay me off. So there I was, jobless, in an area I’ve only spent a year of my life…and I saw this ad in the paper searching for an Executive Director at a Quilt & Textile Museum! Three months later, I started working here. It felt like it was meant to be and it still does. I get to use all these great nonprofit management skills I’ve gained in service to an organization dedicated to quilts & fiber arts.
Are you an artist yourself? How do you fulfill your personal creative vision?
I am an artist. I have worked with many media and disciplines through the years but over the past 12-15 years or so, I’ve settled in. What I turn to most often is knitting, weaving, and 3-D needle felting. I love the knitting, especially lace, but the needle felting is what really has my heart.
I tend to make animals and really like whimsy so I’m always looking for ways to make a new character. Currently, I am working on a mother & baby loon, which will be part of our “Birds of a Fiber” exhibit next February. I also teach needle felting and really enjoy introducing others to it. Fulfilling my personal creative vision is a challenge, only because of time. I have a long list of projects I’d like to do!
My work at the Museum takes up a great deal of my energy. Finding creative time outside of that is difficult, but I make it happen as often as I can. I am fortunate however, because my work is part of my creative vision – introducing others to fiber arts!
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have as compared to people who are not creative?
I think the only thing that separates a “creative” person from someone considered “non-creative” is action. The creative person does. The non-creative person either hasn’t found or experienced that one art discipline that they respond to in their heart. Or they like to do something, like knit, but don’t consider it ‘creative.’
It irritates the heck out of me when someone says “Oh, I’m just not creative!” I think all humans (and many animals, as well!) are creative creatures. It’s all about turning the imagined into reality – generating or recognizing ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others and making the world we live in aesthetically pleasing.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be?
Leonardo da Vinci. It may seem trite, but the depth and diversity of interests this artist had fascinate me. I would love to spend time with him.
What falls under the “fiber arts” umbrella?
The Museum defines ‘fiber arts’ very loosely. We include any fabric art form (quilting, weaving, spinning, felting, etc) as well as needlework (embroidery, applique, samplers, etc), paper making, basketry, beading, kumihimo, origami, apparel….you get the drift.
There are all kinds of definitions of ‘fiber art’ but I like the 1st paragraph of the Wikipedia definition. “Fiber art refers to fine art whose material consists of natural or synthetic fiber and other components, such as fabric or yarn. It focuses on the materials and on the manual labor on the part of the artist as part of the works’ significance, and prioritizes aesthetic value over utility.”
The key phrase for me is ‘fine art’. I’ve really seen a break-through in the last 10-15 years to quilts and fiber arts becoming more accepted within ‘fine art’ spheres. It’s no longer relegated to being viewed as “only craft” or “women’s work.” It’s really important that this artistry continues to be recognized. Just think what the world would be like if Georgia O’Keeffe’s or Grandma Moses’ art was completely ignored because of their sex!
Do you actively seek out new artists? How do you find artists who are not yet “on the circuit”?
YES! Mostly, artists tend to come to us. We receive a lot of exhibit proposals. But I – and really all my staff and board – are constantly on the lookout for art that we think would be a good exhibit. Personally, I often find it when attending other art shows or festivals, reading a magazine, or one of my numerous web surfing trips. We love to present new and emerging artists. It’s a great counterpoint to the traditional exhibits, especially those from our Permanent Collection.
How important is education to your mission?
Extremely important. By offering educational opportunities and engaging students, we achieve several things: 1) the preservation of skills that could otherwise be lost 2) the exposure of the students to both traditional and contemporary art, which then broadens our audience which then, hopefully, strengthens our donor base and 3) the opportunity to support the working artist.
Is it difficult to balance the pull of traditional and contemporary fiber art fans?
In general, no. In quilts enthusiasts specifically, yes! We often get visitors that expect to see all traditional quilts and are disappointed to find modern and contemporary pieces. We’ve had a few leave quite angry, “This isn’t quilts!” they say. We know that there are quilt lovers out there who only think of quilts as the stereotypical piece they saw at Grandma’s house. We try to balance this by always having a small portion of our Permanent Collection on exhibit, usually on the 1st floor.
What is the most important takeaway you want visitors to gain from a visit to the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Art Museum?
That there is always something here that they can relate to or is relevant to them. I’ve often said that visitors are frequently struck by the variety and depth of the exhibits we present. I did not realize the amazing diversity there was in the quilting arts when I first came here! It’s been a real education and, even though I don’t quilt, it has been inspiring and often the catalyst for an idea in a different medium. When you add that to the huge variety available for exhibits in the ‘fiber arts,’ we have a very broad appeal. I love seeing visitors walk away with a sense of wonder. It’s the best!
How does the collection grow? How do you determine which pieces the Museum will acquire?
100% of the Permanent Collection has been donated. For many years (we’ve just celebrated our 21st year), the Museum accepted anything that came in. That led to a rather messy collection without any focus. We now have an Acquisition Committee that works with our Curator. They meet somewhat quarterly to examine the pieces that have come in and makes a determination to acquisition or not.
We look at the quality and uniqueness of the piece, age & condition, and does it duplicate an item already in the collection. If it does, is it better than the one we have? We also evaluate it against our Collections Purpose Statement, which we adopted in 2016. Our collection focuses on the textiles of the Pacific Rim that both exemplify tradition and reflect contemporary trends. The collection will serve both exhibition and educational purposes, and ensure its preservation for future artists, enthusiasts, and students.
Tell us about the oldest item in the Museum’s collection.
This is one of my favorite stories! In December, 2016 a man walked in carrying a large package. He said, “A close friend of mine just died and made me executor of his estate. I have something here I don’t know what to do with and thought maybe the Museum would like to have it.” He then revealed a framed, woven Chimu textile piece from Northern Peru, exquisitely preserved. It is a beautiful piece with traditional Peruvian designs of birds and borders. This is the oldest piece in our collection estimated to be from 1000-1350 AD. These types of happenings and being surrounded by all this art make each day an adventure at the Museum!
Visit the Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum on your next visit to the Pacific Northwest!
Browse through all of our Spotlight interviews on Create Whimsy.