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Donor Spotlight: Anne and Joe Baldwin

We are honored to support the transformation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. As children, we both grew up visiting SAAM and were awed by the massive art deco building and exposure to rich culture within the museum. While raising our children, we visited the museum on school field trips and family outings, so it wasn’t surprising when our son, Michael, chose to take his senior pictures in front of SAAM. When we learned that the historical building was in desperate need of improved infrastructure and climate control as well as expanded exhibition and learning spaces, and we wanted to be involved. SAAM is a Seattle gem with its unique location within Volunteer Park and long, relevant history. This treasured landmark will offer locals and visitors an opportunity learn about the diverse art, culture, values and traditions of Asia for years to come.

–Anne and Joe Baldwin, SAM Donors

Authentic relationships, living museums, and oysters: SAM goes to New Orleans

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) brings together museums across the country—representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners—to share knowledge, best practices, and standards of excellence. Every year, AAM hosts an Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo, featuring interactive sessions covering all aspects of the museum field, keynote talks, book readings, vendor presentations, and parties. Held in a different city every year, the host city often guides the content and experience of the attendees, especially when it comes to doing what museum professionals love to do: visit museums. Well, and eat.

This year’s annual meeting was held May 19–22 in New Orleans. Here are three reflections from SAM staff on what they learned, experienced, and ate in NOLA.

David Rue, Public Engagement Associate

Ongoing (and authentic) relationship building is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the 2019 AAM annual meeting. After connecting with Lauren Zelaya, Brooklyn Museum’s Assistant Curator of Public Programs and Nico Wheadon, Studio Museum Harlem’s former Director of Public Programs and Community Engagement in 2017, we felt a mutual desire to continue a professional relationship of idea-sharing and thought that AAM would be a great opportunity to continue the conversation. In our session, we provided three different institutional perspectives on how to use public and educational programs to implement racial equity work both internally and externally. Getting to know and learn from my co-presenters undoubtedly help me grow as an arts professional. It’s a prime example of how important it is to reach out to those that are doing work that is similar to your own.   

Apart from a fun and exciting panel discussion, it was also my first time visiting New Orleans and it’s safe to say I fell in love. The city, the people, the art, and THE FOOD! It felt great representing SAM at such a large conference and in such a beautiful part of the world.

Philip Nadasdy, Associate Director of Public Engagement

Beyond full days of sessions, keynotes, and meetups, one of the distinct benefits of any AAM annual meeting is the opportunity to visit cultural organizations that help comprise the host city’s identity—and there is no city like New Orleans. A more recent addition to the city is the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum which opened in 2013 with a mission “to promote community empowerment through remembering the past, sharing stories of the present, and planning for the future.”

The museum resides on the corner of a residential street in a six-room house converted into gallery and programming spaces. The Lower Ninth Ward is perhaps most commonly known as the neighborhood hit hardest by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but the Living Museum tells a more comprehensive history of the neighborhood’s geography, people, and culture—while amplifying the ongoing and future community-based efforts to strengthen the lives of people living in the Lower Ninth.

While the museum’s footprint is small, the experience is complex in approach, rigorous in interpretation, and deeply effective. The museum takes the long view of the neighborhood’s history: the geologic and natural ecosystem before land development and industry; Indigenous cultures of the region; colonial beginnings as sugar plantation land; the subsequent growth as a predominantly Black and working-class neighborhood, rich in culture and with an inclination towards resiliency and a do-it-ourselves activism, amidst historically racist and neglectful policymaking and lack of infrastructure investment.

Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are given rightful attention, providing deeper insight into the stories of the residents through oral histories, photographs, art installations, and video that underline the devastation not only of the storm and floods, but of the ongoing systemic forms of oppression and racism that members of the community faced (and continue to confront) as their homes and livelihoods were destroyed.

As in its name, this is a living museum, and while the Lower Ninth’s history is on full display, so too are the ongoing efforts to rebuild and strengthen the community, in which the museum plays an important role through wellness, arts, afterschool programming for youth, and hosting community wealth building opportunities, professional training, and education programming for adults.

In 2012, the city began limiting voyeuristic Hurricane Katrina bus tours of the Lower Ninth, but similar versions continue to operate today. The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum stands as an antidote to that exploitative version of learning about a place and people—a museum built by and for the community that tells their own stories.

Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations

I arrived in New Orleans the day before sessions began, just as night began to fall. I walked the streets of the French Quarter and posted up at a red-lit oyster bar to experience Gulf oysters; in Seattle it’s all brine and mignonette, there it’s horseradish, hot sauce, and conversation. I was in love with the city already.

Over the next two days, I attended sessions on public policy, crisis communications, and participatory exhibitions. A standout was the conversation-starting keynote by art curator and writer Kimberly Drew. My favorite session was TrendsWatch, the annual forecasting report led by Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums. In her work, she identifies what the field needs to be planning for. She identified five trends: truth & trust, blockchain technology, decolonization efforts, homelessness & housing insecurity, and self-care. Phrases that I heard throughout the conference resonated with me and how I approach my work and the work we’re trying to do at SAM: bearing witness, democratic meaning-making, and mission-led social justice stances. 

The annual meeting is more than, well, meetings. I also caught a performance by Big Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame and a reading by legendary culinary historian Jessica B. Harris. At the amazing closing night party, I walked through the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which simply astounded me. On view was Vernacular Voices, featuring work by Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary artists; the paintings of Clementine Hunter were a revelation.

On my final morning, I took a streetcar (no, it wasn’t called Desire) to the New Orleans Museum of Art, where I saw photographs from Rich Frishman’s Ghosts of Segregation series; Will Ryman’s massive gold-painted log cabin America, chronicling the violence of capitalism; and yes, a monumental mural painting by Clementine Hunter.

I fell in love with New Orleans; from the cats in the streets and the live jazz and Sazeracs at Snug Harbor, to the gigantic Gulf oysters and the stunning art and people, it’s a place with a gift for life. I left inspired about the possibilities for cities and for cultural institutions to better people’s lives. 

– Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations

Images: David Rue with co-presenters Chayanne Marcano (Studio Museum of Harlem) and Lauren Zelaya (Brooklyn Museum). Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, photos: Philip Nadasdy. Oyster-getting and gabbing with famed shucker “Stormin” Norman Conerly at Acme Oyster House. Harvesting Gourds near the African House and Wash Day Near Ghana House, Melrose Plantation (1959) by Clementine Hunter at the New Orleans Museum of Art, photos: Rachel Eggers.

Meet SAM’s New Director, Amada Cruz

“I’m looking forward to continuing SAM’s commitment to welcoming everyone.”

– Amada Cruz

We are pleased to welcome Amada Cruz to the SAM family this September as the Museum’s next llsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, succeeding Kimerly Rorschach who will be retiring this fall. Amada joins us from the Phoenix Art Museum where she has served as its Sybil Harrington Director and CEO for the past four years. Amada brings with her more than 30 years of professional experience in the arts. In 2015, W Magazine named her one of the 11 most powerful female museum directors in America. She starts at SAM in September 2019 and we can’t wait to see what the future holds. Get to know SAM’s new director in this short interview with Amada and check out our press release for more on this exciting announcement.

SAM: Why were you interested in coming to Seattle and working at the Seattle Art Museum? 
Amada Cruz: So many reasons! The incredible collection, the generosity of its donors, and Kim’s legacy of excellence. Also, everyone loves Seattle. A great museum with a community of support in a great city. What’s not to love?

What excites you most about SAM’s permanent collection?
I know the contemporary art collection the best because it’s my field, but I love “general” museums because they offer entry points for everyone. I grew up going to the Art Institute in Chicago and The Met in NY, and I like getting lost in big museums, making discoveries. But, the most immediate thrill will be the newly reopening Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will be such a pleasure for me to discover and share with our audiences.

At the Phoenix Art Museum, you took many steps to make the museum more accessible and inclusive. Tell us about this work!
Phoenix is 40% Latinx, so we focused on welcoming that audience in a sustained way. My first interview was in Spanish for the local Spanish-language newspaper and the Univision station. That was important. I also diversified the staff to the point that 3 out of 5 of the senior staff are Latinx. That change affected everything, including programming decisions (more exhibitions by artists of color) and communications (welcoming of all). We initiated a bilingual program with a big banner over the front desk that reads, “Welcome. Bienvenidos.” It seemed like a small gesture, but the response was huge and (mostly) positive. But we also reached out to other groups, including our local Sikh community and now have a Sikh art gallery. I want everyone to feel like the museum belongs to them.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for museums today?  Remaining relevant when people are engaging with culture in so many different ways and with so much competition for attention. We live in a distracting world, so how do we get people to slow down enough to engage with art? It helps to have three distinct sites like SAM, each one offering a particular experience—the urban downtown space, a grand building in a public park, and a spectacular sculpture park by the water.

Which restaurant will you eat at first when you get to Seattle? 
Please send me recommendations! I’ll eat almost anything (once) but really love seafood . . . and wine.

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Docents Defined: Nina Vichayapai

Are you a fan of the Seattle Asian Art Museum who loves discussing your favorite artworks? Consider volunteering as a docent at the Asian Art Museum when it reopens later this year! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Docents bring their unique interests and backgrounds to each tour they lead and that’s what makes them fun and engaging for SAM’s diverse audiences. A docent like Nina didn’t go to museum growing up but later found them to be an important part of her life and started leading tours with SAM to help others become invested in museum visits early in life. Find about more about Nina in the interview below!

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

Nina: I am an artist and studied at an art school in San Francisco. Since I was young, I loved making art and knew I wanted to become an artist. It wasn’t until I was older that I also learned to love looking at art. A huge part of my college education took place at museums and included wonderful opportunities to meet the people who help these spaces function. Growing up I never really visited museums and by the time I became an adult, I somehow fell into the impression that the museum was a space reserved for people unlike me and the stories being told there did not represent mine.

After seeing many different museums, I was blown away by how much these spaces offer our communities. By the time I finished college and decided to move back to Seattle I knew that as much as I wanted to continue making art, I also wanted to find opportunities which would allow me to tap into the joy I have for museums. Becoming a docent with the Seattle Art Museum was really the perfect outlet for that joy. I was especially compelled to become a docent given my previous background of apprehension toward museums. There are many people who avoid museums out of feeling excluded. Having once been one of those people, I have a lot of patience and understanding when it comes to sharing what I think we can all learn from art.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

The best part of being a docent for me is definitely getting to see all the incredible connections people make to their own lives all just from looking at art. I’ve worked primarily with younger students and whether we are looking at a piece from the Pacific Northwest or from somewhere far away, whether it was made last year or hundreds of years ago, I’m always so thrilled to see how quickly the students will begin to relate the work to their own lived experiences.

Another thing I must mention as being a huge highlight is the wealth of resources we have access to! Through the online database, which docents can access, and the library at SAM, there is so much to learn about the art in SAM’s collections. Docents are always contributing to this wealth as well. For any art lover, it’ s really a dream and very fun to get lost in exploring the archives.

What’s your favorite work of art to tour?

My favorite installation to tour is Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. This installation includes the work of Saya Woofalk along with pieces from many other artists, so there is a lot to work within the gallery for the many different tours we do. But what I love most is seeing how students light up when they step into that space. The whole installation really breaks a lot of preconceived ideas about what art and museums are supposed to look like. And the concept of empathy is always one that generates really deep and often touching conversations.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

I gave an Elements of Art tour to a particularly enthusiastic class once. They walked in without much prior experience of talking about art, but by the end of our tour they couldn’t contain their excitement at discovering the different elements we had just discussed in every artwork we passed. It was as if I had revealed a magician’s trick to them and their glee was really contagious!

What advice do you have for people applying for the docent program?

Visit museums! Not just art museums too. Seattle has so many great museums. I think it’s important to get a feel for the culture and approach to education unique to each museum. It helped me understand what qualities I felt were important and how I could bring that to my role as a docent.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

Docents Defined: David Turner

Do you love art and can’t wait to spend loads of time in the Seattle Asian Art Museum when it reopens? We’ve got the volunteer position for you! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Our docents have a wide range of interests and background. Take David, for instance—he started volunteering to lead tours to get more involved in the arts community and his favorite artwork in the museum changes with every tour! Want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16, 2019 from 6–7 pm

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

David: It was a way for me to get to be connected with the community when I came to Seattle.

What’s the best part about being leading school tours?

The exposure to the art and interacting with kids. One visit to a museum is never enough to get to understand or enjoy something. My joy in being in the museum comes from close contact with art over a period of time. It’s more meaningful when I can try to engage a group of kids or even adults in responding to an artwork. It’s a challenge, but it’s really a pleasure.

What’s your favorite work of art at SAM?

That changes every tour. I tell every group I take into the galleries, “I’m going to take you to see my favorite piece.” I want to express to kids, and everyone else on my tours, that I have regard for the work. Yesterday, my favorite piece was Market Scene by Paul Bril.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

The emotional response to Marie Watt’s Blanket Stories: Three Sisters, Four Pelts, Sky Woman, Cousin Rose, and All My Relations in the Northwest Coast galleries. My take on it has always been that every blanket has a story and Blanket Stories encapsulates the stories of the people who created the materials in the piece. I ask viewers if they have a blanket story and it’s always very moving. It’s a very meaningful moment when they see it’s not just about a blanket, but that this is a collection of human beings’ lives.

What advice do you have for people interested in the docent program?

Be yourself. That’s it! A mistake that’s easy to make is to think that there’s a canned presentation that you’re going to give. Those are not the most interesting tours by any means. When docents have internalized a piece, it makes a big difference in the way the audience that you’re speaking to reacts.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

Docents Defined: Erin Bruce

SAM is now recruiting new docents to start training for the reopening of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. You don’t need to be an art historian or a teacher to apply! In fact, SAM docents have a variety of interests and experiences. Having a diverse group of docents is how we’re able to offer tours that are engaging to all visitors. Read below and find out more about docents like Erin Bruce who volunteer their time at the museum.

If you still want to learn more about being a docent? Join SAM staff and current docents at our Docent Open House on May 16 from 6–7 pm! Or, apply now to the docent program. Applications are accepted through May 31.

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

Erin Bruce: I have always been inspired by all things visual, whether it is nature, a building, a room and especially art. I studied art in college and made art whenever possible. Now I am a technical stock trader and rely on charts for my work—more visual interpretation! It was a three-year wait for a new docent class to start for me after a friend told me about SAM. The chance to participate with our museum is an honor.

What’s the best part about being a docent?

The best part is all of it: meeting energetic, generous, knowledgeable people; constant learning; leading a tour of young people and engaging them in the art and history of objects. It’s all gratifying. SAM’s collections are a wondrous gift to our city and special exhibitions join and expand experiences as well.

What is your favorite work of art to tour at the Asian Art Museum?

The Deer Scroll. Calligrapher Koetsu and painter Sotatsu collaborated to create this iconic masterpiece. Our 30 feet of the original 72 feet contains 12 poems from the Shin Kokinshu, which took four years to write. The beauty and harmony transports you to another time and place.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

Tours were scheduled the week before Mother’s Day so I made a gallery activity “A Gift for Mom.” Given one exhibition room students got to pick an object that they would give to their Mom if they could. It revealed so many wonderful things such as what objects in our Asian art collection young people were most drawn to, what they found beautiful and why. Crafting future tours improved since I had learned some of their favorite objects. The chance to interact with young people is yet another joy and benefit of leading a school tour.

What advice do you have for people applying for the docent program?

Your interests and life experiences offer wonderful and unique perspectives. You will discover and explore the vast and layered connections of art to our lives. It is so much fun.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

Volunteer Spotlight: Jody Tate

Did you know that many of Seattle Art Museum’s day-to-day operations rely on the commitment and knowledge of volunteers? When Jody Tate began volunteering three years ago, he dreaded being asked what to see while visiting the museum. Now he enjoys asking questions to help people define their own interests in art and connect to art that they will think about for the rest of their lives! Our Manager of Volunteers asked Jody some questions so you can get to know him and learn more about the important role of SAM’s volunteers.
SAM: What is your current role?
Jody Tate: I’m a SAMbassador and very excited this year to be Vice Chair of the SAM Volunteer Association Executive Committee.
How long have you been volunteering at SAM?
Roughly three years. I had a year-long stint around 2010 and then started up again in 2016.
Why is SAM important to you?
SAM has the most historically diverse range of culturally significant artifacts in all of Seattle—where else under one roof can you see a painting by Amy Sherald, a sculpture by Cy Twombly, and Coast Salish art?
What is one of your favorite artworks in SAM’s collection, and why?
One of many favorites is Mann und Maus. I’ve had more conversations about it than anything else. It’s both approachable and petrifying. Some children toddle up exclaiming to a parent they’ve found Mickey Mouse, while some adults call it a nightmare rat. As for me, I can’t see it and not think of the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as mice (if you haven’t read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, you should) and Auschwitz’s gas chambers used Zyklon B, a pesticide. If we set aside historical atrocities for a moment, my favorite response to Mann und Maus was a little girl who told her father firmly: “Too big.”
When not at SAM, what do you do for fun?
I like to read (just about anything), write (poetry), cook, and just wander the city on foot.
What is something that most people might not immediately know about you?
In a former life, I was an academic. I did a PhD on Shakespeare at the University of Washington. Also, when I was supposed to be finishing that PhD, I procrastinated by editing a collection of essays on the band Radiohead.
What is a simple hack, trick, or advice that you’ve used over time to help you better fulfill your role?
I think some of the best SAMbassadors I’ve shadowed know how to ask questions that can help a patron begin answering her own questions. For example, an open-ended question I dreaded when I started volunteering was, “Where should I start?” Instead of having a rehearsed answer that’s one-size-fits-all, asking a patron what they’re interested in helps me come up with a possible starting point for a more personalized experience in the museum.
– Danie Alliance, Manager of Volunteer Programs
Photo: Natali Wiseman

Stop and Smell the Flowers at SAM

If you have ever walked through Seattle Art Museum’s South Hall, you may have noticed the weekly rotation of beautiful flower arrangements adjacent to the camel sculptures. The flower endowment was created in remembrance of Ann M. Barwick by her husband Thomas Barwick and their children.

From grand peacock feathers in the summer, to miniature pumpkins in the fall, these arrangements light up the room year-round at the entrance of the museum. These flowers are a public declaration of Tom’s love and appreciation for Ann, nature, and SAM.

Ann was an active member of her local gardening and arts community. After raising her four children, Ann decided to pursue a second degree in art history. She began her career in the arts community, where she worked as a Trustee at the Henry Art Gallery and at the Seattle Art Museum. She became a leader in the arts in the city as well as in the state where she was the head of the Arts Committee for the Washington State Governor’s Mansion and the co-founder of the American Art Council of Seattle.

Make sure you take a second to smell the roses the next time you visit the museum!

– Emily Ji, Communications Intern

Photos: Nina Dubinsky

 

 

SAM Connects Culture to Emerging Arts Leaders

Read all about Trang Tran’s experience at SAM as our 2018 Emerging Arts Intern. The Emerging Arts Internship at SAM grew out of SAM’s equity goal and became a paid 10-week position at the museum designed to provide emerging arts leaders from diverse backgrounds with an in-depth understanding of SAM’s operations, programming and audiences. We’re searching for our next Emerging Arts Intern! Does this sound like you? Applications are due April 1!

When I was asked to write a wrap-up blog about my experiences as an Emerging Arts Leader intern at the Seattle Art Museum, I asked myself, “Jeez, where do I even begin?” There are so many experiences, memories, and relationships that I have built at this museum, a place I now consider a second home, that it’s hard to summarize my journey in a paragraph or two.

As I was walking toward the museum on my first day of the internship, the word “anxious” wouldn’t have entirely encapsulated my emotions. I was also thrilled, grateful, and honored to be working at one of the best art institutions on the West coast. My first week flew by as I met staff members who were inclusive, welcoming, supportive, and helpful as I tried to find my way around the maze of the administrative office. Over the next weeks, I began conducting informal interviews with staff members, working on projects with the curatorial, communication, and educational departments, and I ran around the museum trying to find meeting rooms but repeatedly ending up on the wrong floor (“M stands for Maloney”– David). I also toured the Olympic Sculpture Park (Thanks, Maggie!), made multiple trips to the galleries and library as I began research for my December My Favorite Things Tour, spiraled down the rabbit hole in art storage (Thanks, Carrie!), attempted to write a press release for an upcoming exhibition (Thanks, Rachel!), participated in many events hosted by the museum, and more!

One event I was especially honored to participate in was the Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodpur, India Community Opening Celebration. I had the opportunity to interact with the community by greeting them at the door and answering questions about the evening’s programs. Instead of running around the administrative office or staring at a computer screen, I was able to engage with the museum’s audience. It was amazing to witness the enthusiasm, anticipation, and joy radiating from everyone I met at the door. Even though I ended up losing my voice that night, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

I was also fortunate to spend the day with my little brother, Kevin, at the Diwali Family Festival. Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is one of the most important celebrations in India where people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The museum’s annual Diwali Family Festival included a vibrant fashion show, numerous art activities, dance performances, live music, and tours of the special exhibition, Peacock in the Desert, as well as tours of SAM’s permanent collections and installations. By attending this event, I hoped to show my brother that art is not just about color pigments on a white canvas on the wall or a sculpture encased in glass that you forget about as soon as you walk away. Art has the effect of bringing people together. People of different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds come together to celebrate, learn about, and appreciate a culture. Art also has the power to encapsulate political struggles, social changes, cultural values, and art movements. These are the reasons why I love, and am passionate, about art. I hope that if I can help the youngest member of my family see how powerful art can be, maybe one day my parents, as well as the wider Asian-American community, will learn to accept and recognize the existence of the art world.

Throughout this 10-week interdisciplinary internship, I found myself learning about the numerous operations that keep the museum running on an everyday basis. Such operations range from researching artworks in the curatorial department to fundraising in the development department, from promotional strategies in the marketing department to writing press releases in the communication department, and from preserving artworks in the conservation department to engaging the public in the educational department. But if I were to selected one main lesson to take away after this internship, it would be that a museum is not just about the artworks in the gallery; it’s also about people coming together to successfully bring these artworks to the public. For an artwork to be displayed in the museum, for a sculpture to be standing in the gallery, or for an exhibition to be showcased for three months, it takes cooperation from every department in the museum. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has welcomed, accepted, supported, challenged, and encouraged me throughout this internship. Thank you for all the hard work that you are doing, not only for the world of art, but also for the public community.

– Trang Tran, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern 2018