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COVID-19 UPDATE: ALL SAM LOCATIONS CURRENTLY CLOSED. LEARN MORE »

Community Questions: How Are You Staying Connected?

While SAM locations are closed, we are still working hard to center diverse voices in all that SAM does. The SAM Equity Team is sharing some of the ways that this is manifesting in the museum, in Seattle, and in our lives by asking team members to reflect on how equity and community building continue to be the center of our work, despite our inability to physically gather at this time. The first question was: How are you continuing to build and stay connected to community during this time?

Here’s how Rayna Mathis, SAM’s Assistant Educator for Teen Programs and equity team member, responded:

My quarantine has been a pretty silent one because I live alone, which means I bounce around my apartment all day with only my thoughts to keep me company. I knew too many days of this would go south real fast. I needed to focus on something to help me build and stay connected to my community in a way that felt authentic and meaningful for me. This led me to building a Little Free Library (LFL). I did my research, went to Home Depot, built the structure, went to Home Depot again, realized I bought the wrong thing at Home Depot, cried, painted, and somehow finished in a week’s time (I call those fine moments the spark notes of the project).

During that week, friends and strangers alike reached out to offer support. It’s been nearly a month since I’ve been working from home and, to date, I’ve received carpentry lessons, supportive texts and messages to keep me going, transportation to put the library in place, snacks from friends who made sure I wasn’t forgetting to eat, monetary donations to support the cost of building materials, Clorox wipes, and wrapping paper to sanitize donations and keep them preserved, and over 300 book donations!

With permission from local business owner, Luis Rodriguez, the library was placed outside of The Station, an activist coffee shop in South Seattle. Though the library is filled with content appropriate for all ages, the purpose for this location was to ensure an accessible way for South Seattle students who are not in school due to the stay home order and/or with limited internet access, to be able to continue to find ways to learn or be entertained at this time. And with generous donations from all over Seattle, The Station has also transformed part of its store into a open pantry for anyone in the community to get groceries for themselves and their families.

When you ask me what community means to me, it’s this. From every corner of Seattle, this work is being done without hesitation and people are showing up before even being asked. There’s less to worry about and more to be grateful for when I know I am a part of a community that holds each other up, and will weather every storm together.

Building a LFL is a project I’ve been interested in for a long time. LFL’s have been there for me in tough or unusual times. Once when I was out of the country and homesick, I stumbled on a LFL in a large mall and the first book I picked up had a dedication from a bookstore in Washington. What were the odds of finding a book from home so far from home? The day a mentor of mine passed away, I passed an LFL in a walk to Green Lake and found a poem by Maya Angelou about death and loss. When I’ve gotten lost in the hectic world, time and time again I was found behind library doors, beneath book covers, inside every page. There is comfort and familiarity in feeling connected across shared love of a book. I hope my LFL brings a feeling of connection to anyone who finds the book they didn’t know they needed in it.

SAM Connects Community to Gallery Spaces

SAM’s Community Gallery has been displaying work from artists of all ages located throughout Washington State for over a decade. Shows featuring photography, mixed media, sewing and textile arts, ceramics, and 2-D and 3-D mixed media have filled this space over the years. Youth, SAM staff and volunteers, community organizations, nonprofits supporting arts programming, and schools and classes have had their art displayed on the ground floor of SAM’s downtown location, serving as a colorful reminder of creativity and community building.

2019 staff art show

Before I worked at SAM, I installed a show in the Community Gallery representing a multitude of different artists who connected with the Yesler Terrace community and beyond. It brought many community members to SAM for the first time and the artists involved in the show expressed the feeling of importance that came with having their work displayed in the museum.

With the beginning of a new decade, SAM is taking a new approach to the Community Gallery. We are working to show art from communities and artists who are underrepresented in the museum world due to systematic oppression. We are looking for artwork by and for artists of color, queer artists, disabled artists, youth and elderly artists, immigrant and refugee
communities, and low-income artists.

Naramore award ceremony, May 2019

We now have a simple application that outlines our equity goals for the space and how the Community Gallery can be used. Take a look at our call for art to learn more and apply to hang your community’s artwork downtown at SAM.

We are also adding more Community Gallery space in a city where art spaces are becoming more and more tenuous. The renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum created a new, additional Community Gallery space. Once it opens in February, the Asian Art Museum Community Gallery will feature works by and for the Asian Pacific Islander community in Seattle throughout its inaugural year.

We’ll also be curating our first youth-focused gallery space downtown, featuring a Teen Arts Group-curated exhibition of youth artists for its premiere show. SAM is always working to extend and expand the accessibility and connections within our community and the updated Community Gallery guidelines are one way we can’t wait to share with you!

– Jenn Charoni, SAM Public Engagement Associate

Photos: Jen Au & Natali Wiseman

The Kimerly Rorschach Fund for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In September 2019, Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, retired after seven years of leading the institution and an illustrious 25-year career in the arts. When Rorschach joined SAM in November 2012, she set her sights on creating a schedule of exhibitions and programs for the museum’s three locations that was compelling and timely and that would resonate with a rapidly growing and diversifying Seattle community. 

During her tenure, equity and inclusion also became top priorities. As part of a commitment to building racial equity, addressing institutional racism, and bringing forth real change, she led the museum’s participation in Turning Commitment into Action, a cohort led and funded by the Office of Arts & Culture in partnership with Office for Civil Rights in 2015. After taking part in this important cohort, SAM established a staff leadership team dedicated to these efforts, and hired Priya Frank as Associate Director for Community Programs in the museum’s Education department and also appointed her the founding chair of the newly established Equity Team.

Beginning in 2016, SAM established racial equity training for the staff, volunteers, docent corps, and Board of Trustees. The museum also created special exhibition advisory committees to ensure that diverse community voices are part of the exhibition, programming, and marketing planning processes. Equity was added to the museum’s official values statement and integrated into the institution’s strategic plan, which guides all departments’ goals. The Emerging Arts Leader internship was also established, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. These are just some of the ongoing efforts that Rorschach led the museum in pursuing.

In honor of Rorschach’s extraordinary vision in guiding the museum’s dedication to equity work, the SAM Board of Trustees, along with friends of Rorschach, have created an endowment that establishes permanent funding for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at SAM. The Kimerly Rorschach Fund for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion helps ensure that these efforts will continue at the museum and paves the way for SAM to be a leader in this crucial area of the arts.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Scott Areman

Lauren Farris: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

“Vulnerability” has been a bit of a buzz word ever since Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” Having watched Brené’s TED Talk and read one of her books, I value vulnerability a lot, but being vulnerable myself can still feel fairly nerve-wracking. So when the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern and I were asked to lead a My Favorite Things Tour, little did I know that the next 10 weeks would also include a road trip down vulnerability lane. 

When I first heard about the tour, I thought this tour would remain in the realm of theoretical, academic concepts. To be fair, a large part of the process involved researching the history behind each piece, utilizing resources from SAM’s libraries (thanks, Traci, Jordyn, and Yueh-Lin!), and meeting with curators (thanks, Pam and Chiyo!). But along with the historical research, our mentors and colleagues, Rachel, Seohee, David, and Priya (thank you all!), encouraged us to delve vulnerably into our stories and weave them into each piece. 

Because of this, I began asking myself some questions about my story, including being mixed race. For a while, I’ve been nervous about my voice because being mixed race often feels like a grey area between two distinct points of view and voices in society. But as I worked on the tour, each of our mentors and countless people shared their time, insight, stories, and vulnerability to help me process, ask deeper questions, and craft the content of the tour. Without them, the tour and this blog post would look entirely different. 

Not to mention, I’ll always cherish the times the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern, Cat, and I practiced nearly 50 versions of our ever-evolving tour with each other. Because our tours delved into more personal topics, we became each other’s support and cheerleader through a lot of ups and a few downs. Together, we also arranged informational interviews with staff across many departments, assisted at events like SAM Remix, DragonFest, and Summer Institute for Educators, and attended department and equity team meetings. I learned so much from working with Cat (miss you!) and love the ways in which SAM values and integrates collaboration. 

Throughout this entire internship, I’ve learned so much about museums, equity work within museums, and about myself. The interdisciplinary focus provided the opportunity to learn about many of the departments that comprise SAM. All throughout and above the galleries, it’s inspiring to see how many dedicated individuals play a role – from fundraising to checking coats to communicating with the press to leading student tours—to make SAM the museum that it is. 

I also learned a lot about equity work in museums that I didn’t know before. I’ve realized that it’s not enough to know some terms or read some papers or books, but it takes the vulnerability to ask myself the same questions within these papers. And it takes the bravery to answer these questions honestly. 

SAM gave me a safe space to ask questions and come from a posture of growth and progression rather than perfection. More than ever, I’ve learned how crucial and empowering it is to connect with people who share both similar and different experiences. The ways that SAM strives for equity within education, programming, exhibitions, staff, and every part of SAM is inspiring. SAM is opening up dialogue, asking themselves, and others, critical questions, and aiming to lead and learn with each step towards furthering inclusivity and equity. SAM taught me that it takes vulnerability and guts to genuinely look at equity within ourselves in order to implement equity institutionally and beyond.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this internship so special. And guess what? I’m so grateful, honored, and thrilled to continue on with SAM’s amazing Development Team as a Campaign Assistant! See you around!

– Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant & 2019 Emerging Arts Leader Intern

Photos: Natali Wiseman.

Say Hi to SAM’s New Emerging Arts Leader: Trang Tran

SAM’s ongoing Emerging Arts Leader Internship continues this winter with Trang Tran, a senior at the University of Washington.

This paid internship is aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field and work toward equity and inclusion within our own walls. Launched in 2016, the internship program now boasts seven graduates.

Trang started her internship in September and will be here through the end of 2018. Growing up, she was expected to pursue a STEM career and planned to study biology—until an introductory art history course changed the course of her life (art has a way of doing that). Graduating next June from UW, she’s now pursuing an art history degree—with a minor in microbiology! During her cross-disciplinary internship, she’ll explore all facets of the museum field and share her unique insights along the way. Says Trang, “I want to demonstrate to society—especially the Asian community—that every child deserves to have an equal opportunity to choose their career path. I want to become that change.”

Save the date for Thursday, December 6! Trang will lead a free My Favorite Things Tour in the galleries focusing on some of what she’s learned while contributing to SAM. You won’t want to miss it.

We asked Trang: What’s a work of art that challenged your perspective on life?

Trang: The Last Judgment by Michelangelo, which he painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City during the Renaissance era. The stylistic goals of the Renaissance era were rationality, balance, and unity. However, Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment was very dynamic, chaotic, and filled with ambiguity. Michelangelo challenged the norms of the Renaissance movement and as a result, he created one of the world’s greatest treasures. His refusal to conform to the norms of the current art movement encouraged me to pursue a career outside of the ones that children who grow up in Asian communities are generally expected to pursue. I want to demonstrate to society that I can become successful doing something I love instead of chasing a career that society labels as “successful.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Seohee Kim: Emerging Arts Leader Intern Look at SAM

During my first week as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern at Seattle Art Museum, I was told that by the last week of the internship this reflection post for the blog would be due. I remember thinking, “Oh, that sounds easy enough—just summarize what happened in a paragraph or two.” Clearly, I had no idea what was headed my way. The past week has been an endless cycle of drafting, writing, editing, only to draft again. (You know that feeling of when there’s so much you want to say, and say eloquently, that words and sentences are flying around your mind and you’re scrambling to make sense of them, but you actually just end up staring at the blinking text cursor for an hour? Yeah, that.)

When I reflect on the past 10 weeks of my internship, I imagine having one of those View-Masters (they’re still relevant, right?) and clicking through reels of moments at SAM. It starts with the welcoming faces of everyone I meet coming into view. Then, a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings; getting lost in the labyrinth of the administrative office; storage visits with Carrie (thank you, Carrie!); always pressing the wrong level in the elevator; researching objects; conducting informational interviews with staff; preparing for my My Favorite Things tour; taking part in Career Day, Seattle Art Fair, Summer at SAM, and Remix; and so much more. As if in slow motion, images of my last week include the nerve-wracking day of my tour and saying goodbye to everyone I had the privilege of working with.

I’m surprised how much I changed in this short time span. In the beginning, I thought I knew enough about diversity and equity work from courses at university and my past experiences that I was only focused on giving my perspectives rather than allowing myself to be vulnerable and molded by those far more experienced than I. Working closely with the equity team this past summer, I found myself constantly learning, practicing, and honing the use of an equity lens in my work. I experienced the behind-the-scenes of a museum and community working towards transparency and racial and social equity. I saw every meeting ask how to be inclusive, provide access, and advance equity. There was, and is, so much I don’t know, not only regarding the arts and museums, but also in becoming a better ally for community. Watching and working alongside these amazing and passionate individuals, I’ve come to reevaluate myself, my goals, and my passions on a weekly basis.

What resulted of this reevaluation was the “My Favorite Things” tour I had the privilege of leading (I still can’t believe I led a tour). To close off, I’d like to share a snippet from what I shared at the tour.

We tend to get easily distracted if an issue doesn’t directly affect us. From this internship and conducting research for this tour the past few weeks, I’ve realized again and again that privilege doesn’t always mean monetary wealth or status. It could be not having to worry about being seen as a threat walking in your own neighborhood late at night. It could be not feeling your heart pound every time you see words like ICE and DACA and UNDOCUMENTED in the headlines. It could be your close friends and family asking you if you’re doing alright and being able to genuinely answer that you’re well instead of brushing it off with an “I’m okay” when you really cried yourself to sleep at night because you’re supposed to have everything under control. Just because it doesn’t affect us directly, doesn’t mean it’s not there nor does it mean it’s less important. As a community, in order to work towards true equity, we have to embrace and endure all pains as if they are our own. We must face our worst selves and acknowledge our lacking. It’s going to be difficult; it will be uncomfortable…but I invite you to join me in this continuing journey of becoming more aware, becoming more responsible, and becoming more informed not only for ourselves but also for each other.”

To everyone I met and worked with this past summer, thank you so much for your continuous kindness, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve never felt more welcome and cherished in a workplace setting than at SAM. And, thank you for all you do on a daily basis to work for and better our community.

–Seohee Kim, 2018 SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern

What do you want to do when you grow up? SAM can help with the answer!

Remember when you were in school and everyone nagged you about what you wanted to do when you grew up? You may have known, you may not have known, you may have thought you knew and ended up changing your mind. SAM’s High School Career Day programs differ from others by rejecting the notion that 15 and 16 year-olds need to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Instead we explore the vast career options within a museum whilst creating a space for students to feel okay with the unknown.

SAM’s Equity Team’s Career Days center the interests of aspiring youth while involving staff from across departments and shedding light on the real people who navigate the creative, interesting, and sometimes odd, world of nonprofits, art, and museums. Students have heard from folks in SAM’s Education, Curatorial, Security, and Development departments, as well as from teaching artists, and more!

Our last Career Day on April 25, 2018 was with Mount Rainier High School and 85% of students said this experience helped them better understand their future career interests and plans for after high school. Nearly 70% of students said this experience helped them think about school in a new way, or motivated them to do better in school. Some of the students shared their thoughts with us after their visit!

“I thought about how it would be an interesting job but it made me realize I need to do better in school to become what I want.”

“Learning about the history of some of the art made me understand and find a deeper appreciation for history in school I don’t enjoy.”

“We saw a figures in history exhibit where old paintings had been re-imagined to represent a larger modern community. I’d like to work harder to later represent youth and help educate about identity expression at school.”

Our next Career Day is in November and we will continue to offer this program in the future. If you would like to bring your group to the museum for a Career Day experience, please email us!

– Rayna Mathis, School and Educator Programs Coordinator

Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders

“SAM connects art to life.”

These are the first five words of SAM’s mission statement. Staff and volunteers read these words on the wall every day when arriving at work. It’s the lens through which we view everything we do.

One crucial part of that mission is to work for equity and inclusion within our own walls, knowing that the museum must reflect the community it serves. In 2016, SAM launched the Emerging Arts Leader Internship, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field.

This summer, two more interns begin their work. Near the end of their internship, they’ll lead a free tour in the galleries focusing on some what they’ve learned while contributing to SAM.

Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders:

Dovey Martinez

Born and raised in Seattle, Dovey is triumphantly returning to the city after completing her Bachelor’s in Studio Art at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. As a Honduran American and the child of immigrants, Dovey initially explored becoming an immigration lawyer. Fortunately for the arts and for SAM, she turned her focus to art: to the formal qualities of paint, to depicting the lives of marginalized communities, and to working for equity and inclusion.

Dovey was a member of Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based college access program. One of her mentors there said this about her work:

“Her paintings convey the real struggle and sacrifice of her family and the millions of other amazing families working in agricultural fields and cleaning houses in order to create opportunities for the next generation of children hoping to benefit from the American promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Thanks to her interest in contemporary art and with working with the public, Dovey will be working primarily with the Curatorial department and with the Education department on public programming.

Seohee Kim

Seohee is preparing to graduate this June from the University of Washington with a degree in Communications and a minor in Diversity. A first-generation Korean American, she grew up in a predominantly white community in the American South. A self-described Third Culture Kid, Seohee had to balance the divergent rules and codes of school and home. It was at college where she learned to “embrace both cultures equally, and to value the challenges as learned opportunities to wield as tools in assisting those who similarly feel wedged between cultural identities.”

Embracing her multifaceted identity and experience is what guides Seohee’s interest in communications, in which she’s excelled. One of her former professors shared,

“Seohee has a longstanding interest in visual cultural production as a medium for communicating about racialized difference. Her schoolwork and previous experiences have long focused on the simultaneous negotiation, power, and disconnections between her various identities.”

Because of her passion for storytelling and multilingual and intercultural fluencies, Seohee will work primarily with the Curatorial and Communications departments, researching and writing about art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair

Image: Left, Dovey Martinez. Right, Seohee Kim.

Migration Stories: Pam McClusky

I migrated twice before I was 20. When I was 11, my brother and I got on a plane to meet our mother in Liberia, West Africa. She had worked for Peace Corps, but now had a job with a San Francisco State University team to set up schools. She found a house for us in a place known as Sunken Heights. Liberians always laughed when you said you lived there. They had watched Americans come in, not ask many questions, and begin building houses in the dry season—not realizing the ground was part of a swamp. All the houses sank lower and lower every year. Ours was at the end of the block, closest to the deepest swamp where wild creatures seemed to party hard every night. My first morning, I woke up in a room with bars across the windows that were overgrown with vines. As the sun rose, the vines seemed to move. I walked over to look carefully and realized that snakes were twisting around in the vines and using the bars as a gym for their morning workout. This was their house too. We soon got someone skilled with a machete to cut away the vines and encourage the snakes to move on.

We learned to adore living differently. There was almost no TV, but there were masquerades. There were no concerts, but ceremonies at dawn. I came to savor rice with hot sauce, fried plantains, and tonal languages. We had no father there, so my mother hired a man who became our guardian. He happened to be a zo, or traditional spiritual leader, so our house was the counseling center for the community. The only fights I ever saw were on the soccer field. Our school was international, and one of my heroes was a tall mysterious Swedish ballet teacher who drove a convertible red sports car and gave us cold bottles of Coca-Cola to drink after every class. Vacations took us to other parts of Africa, including a spring in Kenya where a viewing window allowed us to watch hippos swimming underwater.

After nearly five years, we returned to San Francisco. Walking into a public high school was one of the worst experiences of my life. I went to stand in line and was pushed into another line. When I tried to talk to other students, they were the wrong students. When I went into the bathroom, I got beat up and had all my jewelry torn off. Someone said a rumor was circulating that I was retarded. I began to internalize this misguided insult, most of all at PE, when teachers gave me a horrible blue jumper to wear, ushered me out onto a concrete playground, and handed me a bat. I had no idea what to do with it, thereby perpetuating my peers’ taunts. Lunch was a nightmare. I hid in the library as eruptions were heard coming from the cafeteria. There were reports of razor blade attacks, and a student waved a sawed off shotgun in my face, then hid it in his jacket. I finally began to realize that everyone was organized by the color of their skin and I was in the middle of a daily battle over issues I had no clue about. Classes also had conflicts. One day, the English teacher began reading a story I had written and made fun of it as being an example of someone going too far with their imagination. Several students turned to look at me, grinned, and did the sign of being cuckoo. When the class was over, I walked out and wished I had that bat so I could hit the walls.

I decided to go see my mom at the University and explain why I had to drop out of high school. She was assistant to the President of San Francisco State University and I found her office surrounded by police in full riot gear. The President, S.I. Hayakawa, had become the target of a student protest movement led by the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). I saw a tin that we had filled with chocolate chip cookies the night before for my mom’s co-workers. Now it was marked “evidence” as it held the makings of a bomb left in the hallway. We saw the tin on the news that night, and then a report on the high school riots. I argued that it made no sense to live in America anymore and urged us to find a way to return to Africa as soon as possible.

Forever after, whenever people speak harshly about violence in other cultures (particularly Africa), I pause to remember these days. No one has the copyright on disasters and destructive behavior. When Americans speak of equity and diversity as ideals to strive for, I think about how the entire world is in need of as much equity as is humanly possible. Diversity to me requires looking at the big picture with people from more than America. If we don’t, we run the risk of building more Sunken Heights, where we sink into a swamp filled with more slithering creatures than we know how to handle and eternal difficulties in getting along with each other.

–Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. We hope this blog series inspires you to consider how your own perspective and history relates to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork. See The Migration Series before it closes April 23 to begin gaining the bigger picture that Pam discusses in her Migration Story.

Image: “My brother Duncan, myself and Fostino in Kenya”, Courtesy of Pam McClusky.