We are sharing selections from SAM’s Conversations with Curators member-only series online with everyone! This talk took place live between the artist behind “Carpe Fin,” SAM’s most recent and largest, commission, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, and SAM’s Curator of Native American Art, Barbara Brotherton.
Due to some technical difficulties, SAM members got a little tour of the artist’s quarantine studio at the beginning of the talk. We hope you enjoy this happy outcome of the challenges of moving our programs online!
Far away, past the point of no return, sits Lord’s Rock, an indistinct protuberance in an archipelago of windswept islands. It is from this auspicious place of hardship and wonder that Yahgulanaas’ large-scale Haida manga refreshes an ancient Haida tale. Several artistic and cultural influences form this innovative, hybrid style. Using Pop Art, Japanese manga, and Northwest Coast Indigenous formline art, the artist calls for action to save our one small planet. Hear about Yahgulanaas’ journey from politician and environmental activist to a leader in contemporary Haida art.
Watch to learn more about the artist behind Middle Fork. Currently hanging in SAM’s Brotman Forum, Middle Fork is the life-size sculpture echoing the contours of a 140-year-old western hemlock tree located in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle. John Grade joined us from his studio to talk with Alison Milliman, founder of MadArt, and Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.
MadArt was the original incubator for Middle Fork and since debuting there in January 2015, the sculpture has traveled around the world and more than doubled in length. Grade’s work is exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and outdoors in urban spaces and nature. His projects are designed to change over time and often involve collaboration with large groups of people. He lives and works in Seattle.
This salon was originally presented as part of SAM’s Contributors Circles Members Salon Series. A benefit to our generous Contributor Circles Members, we are pleased to share this intimate salon with all of you while you stay home home SAM.
Yesterday, SAM rolled out an exciting new era for members! With new digital membership cards we are reducing plastic and paper waste, increasing convenience, and saving museum resources, allowing us to put more of your membership contribution towards connecting art to life. All while offering the same great benefits—now available through your smartphone wallet.
It may take several days for you to receive the email with your digital membership card. Dual members and higher, you may not receive your second card at the same time. If you do not receive your digital membership card by Monday, November 11, please contact us.
Remember, using a digital card is an option! You can continue to use your plastic membership card or we can always verify membership status at the Ticketing Desk when you present your photo ID.
What do you need to know now that SAM membership has caught up with the digital age? Check out our FAQ!
Digital Strategy Consultant
Member since 2013
Why do you love art?
Art helps me to think differently, to see the world in a new way. I particularly like contemporary art for this reason—it is bounded only by the artist’s imagination and their ability to physically realize the idea.
What’s your occupation? What are your hobbies or passions?
I am a digital strategy consultant with a particular focus on using digital tools for activism. That means that I help people who want to change the world figure out who they need to persuade in order to do that and then how to persuade them. In the realm of political activism, often people want someone in the government to make a change. But it could be any kind of audience. If you want to change the world, usually you have to persuade someone to take some action and that’s where communication comes in.
I hear you worked on the Obama campaign.
Yes, I did, in 2008. It was very exciting to do the first digital campaign. I was the operations manager for the new media department. We had 60 people working on email, graphic design, and video. It was really cool to see how the technology and communication work was being driven by strategy. There was a Facebook group called “A Million Strong for Barack Obama.” One of the reasons to do that was not only to gin up [individual] support, but to seek media support. They said, “Oh you are never going to have a million posts in a Facebook group.” Then when we did, there was additional media coverage from that. So doing something new was part of the branding.
What brought you to Seattle?
I came here for grad school. I have an MA in communication from UW. Right now I am doing communication consulting and also working on an organization that’s going to do strategy training practice online. There is a lot of activism around right now where people are really passionate but it’s not clear who they are trying to influence or what their demand is. Sometimes it’s ok to go out there and show your feelings, but if you can direct these feelings for some practical change—that’s what I’m for.
Where does art fit into the picture?
Art is basically part of liking humanity. Why would I want to oppose oppression or support human rights? Because humans can do beautiful things like make art. It’s very much an alpha/omega situation for me. Defending human rights, helping people make their lives better so that they can make beautiful things like sculpt, paint, play music, or write poetry—that’s the connection.
Do you think art is something that people are freed up to do once they achieve . . . would you call it freedom?
I think that people are hardwired to create. Obviously, in history, people in horrible conditions have created beautiful art. But if you free someone’s spirit from fear, physical need, or other kinds of oppression, then there is an opportunity for that person to blossom and more fully express themselves. I would say that oppression and art can coexist, but people who are free to express themselves are more likely to do so.
How does the museum fit in?
The museum is where I can easily come in contact with art. We can see art in a magazine or we might pass a piece of public art in the city, but if you want to seek art out you know you can have that experience in a museum. And in addition to their collection, SAM has talks and performances that provide all kinds of artistic experiences throughout the year. It’s also just a relaxing and pleasant place to hang out and take a break.
Why did you join SAM?
I was a student at the time and a friend brought me for an event. I was buying a ticket and the very effective salespeople told me that for $10 more I could become a member for the whole year. The student rate was such a great deal to allow me to support an arts institution. In my family supporting culture is valued. Obviously as a student I really didn’t have resources but because I could afford the student rate and support an institution, I wanted to do that.
Because SAM believes everyone should have access to art and creativity, we offer memberships at a variety levels. Find out more about joining as a student and begin enjoying SAM for free for an entire year. Join now and see Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series before it closes on April 23. The Migration Series focuses on social justice issues surrounding the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North in the decades after the First World War. If you agree with Mary that art is crucial to our humanity, share in art at SAM starting today.
I love art because I feel like it’s one of the many ways to express yourself. I go to an art school and it’s really different from other high schools because the focus is on art. Having so many different art classes gives everyone a way to be comfortable with themselves and what they can do and, again, a chance to express themselves.
Do you think museums are important to society?
Yes, because you’re seeing artists’ work and they dedicated themselves to the painting, or sculpture, or whatever it is. People take an interest in art, so it’s important to have a place where it’s possible for them to appreciate it.
What kind of art do you make?
Music. I’m in choir, dance, and photography so I have a lot of elective classes.
What do you want to be when you “grow up?”
I really like writing. Photojournalism is something I’ve been looking at, and social work because I really want to help people, not with their health, but emotionally with the decisions they make. So I haven’t really decided.
Do you have a favorite piece at SAM?
I like this one painting—I don’t remember what the name is—it’s a calm and peaceful country setting. It has a pinkish shade to it and has so many little hidden pictures in it that I spend a lot of time looking at it. I go look at it all the time. That is my favorite picture. It’s so beautiful and I love the color. There is a little house in the corner and there are people outside of it but you can’t really tell if you are just walking past. You have to really pay attention. There are fish in the water and there are so many things in the picture.
A Country Home by Frederick Edwin Church. That’s one of our American art curator’s favorites, too. It’s in the third floor American Art Galleries. Do you come here with your friends or is this a place where you come alone?
I bring my friends along. I brought my parents, cousins, brother, and sister. A majority of my family has come to the museum because I feel they should come and see it.
Why do you think it’s important for them to come?
Because there are so many beautiful things and it’s really nice to see, especially when it’s so close. I felt the need to bring them in so they could see what I’m around all the time.
Change management consultant
Dual member since 2011
Why do you love art?
Art makes us ask questions. It makes us stand on our tippy-toes peeking around the painted street corner. It sparks our curiosity. It inspires us, charges our batteries, and makes our souls richer.
What are your hobbies or passions?
In my free time, I explore caves. When you’re in that cave, there is nothing else. The world outside does not exist, because the possibility that you will never see daylight again is always present. In a way, caving is like space travel, the last frontier, the ultimate mission into unknown. The promise that it holds is breathtaking beauty, exploration, adventure, and, of course, discovery of something we didn’t know about ourselves. You’re testing your own limits, you’re watching your every move, and you’re trying to absorb as much as you can from your surroundings. To me, this is very primal.
Do you see any link between your hobbies of cave exploring and art?
I think it’s curiosity, because what I wrote about art is actually what I used to do when I was a little kid. My aunt had a painting of a street corner that veered off and you couldn’t see where it was leading so I thought if I got myself in the right position, somehow I would see the other side of the street. It’s the same thing about caves—it’s searching for the next thing around the corner and just being curious. The curiosity that we have as the human race, I guess.
You’re a change management consultant. What does that mean?
Change management is an emerging field that’s growing here in the Pacific Northwest. We have an international organization where we help organizations to transition. It could be anything from companies moving or implementing new software or having a merger with another company. We help with preparing people for the new world. I’ve been doing this for 7 years.
What’s your favorite SAM location? Do you have a special spot to visit?
SAM’s Asian Art Museum. The museum has such historical value and it’s just so beautiful. The setting in Volunteer Park—and all of it—is just great. I love to visit Monk At The Moment Of Enlightenment. I found looking at the other Asian art that’s exhibited there from that period that you don’t see a whole lot of expression on the face (in general) and he has this expression of bliss that I think is so hard to capture—even for something that is that old and made in wood. That moment of enlightenment that we all hope—well, maybe not all but some of us hope—to maybe live someday. I think it’s a really uplifting piece of art and pretty unique to what I’ve seen. I don’t claim to be an Asian art connoisseur so I just enjoy it.
Yes, we like the things we like. You’ve been a member since 2011?
Yes. I really didn’t realize how easy it is to be a member. I got a gift membership that year and I was thrilled. I just love coming to the museum and it definitely pays in multiple ways. Not just financially. Here you get that sense that art is accessible and that’s really the appeal to me: being a part of it, being able to support it in some way.
If you, like Mariana, love the Asian Art Museum, get enlightened on what’s happening as we begin our renovation and expansion of the historic home of SAM. Members make our world go round and you can help ensure the future of the Asian Art Museum by becoming a member today or making a donation to the renovation of the iconic Art Deco building.
S: I come to SAM for many reasons: a respite for meditation and solitude, for inspiration in my own artwork, to share my love of art with friends and family, to meet my daughters for lunch. I love having a membership because I can drop in for twenty minutes or two hours as often as I like.
Nina, can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
N: I went to grad school for museum studies. When I was a kid I really liked art and science. So when I went to grad school I studied art and science museums and science and art museums. Now I work in science, but I’m trying to start a pop-up science museum that will take place at community organizations, storefronts, or places like big museums.
We come in and do a curriculum that’s science-based but really multidisciplinary. This weekend is the second one, which is a paper circuit workshop. Kids will make Christmas cards and they will learn some electrical engineering—and they will draw, play with colors, and figure out what they want things to look like. It should be fun. The first one took place in White Center and was an exhibit on computer science.
Do you guys experience SAM as a family? Do you come here together?
S: Yes! The whole family comes. Actually, my husband used to work around the corner so we would meet here frequently. It’s a stopover place for us, which I love. I love to have a membership so I can just say, “Hey, meet me here, let’s go see whatever is going on or go revisit something.” It’s not just an occasion. It’s part of our lives—of my life, anyway.
N: During a lot of grad school I was abroad. My sister’s been traveling and my brother’s not living here. When we all come back to Seattle we go to SAM.
S: Nina takes us. My husband has work meetings in the café. We have a lot of history here for the last ten years. We moved here about ten years ago.
N: I got her a membership as a birthday present.
S: I’d forgotten about that!
N: When we first moved here I was probably seventeen. I said, “This is for Mom.” If you want to know a place you have to find out where the museum is.
S: Yes! I travel with my husband; I’m fortunate I can sometimes go with him for free. Every city I go to, I go to the museums. I’ve seen tons of American museums lately. Yes, SAM’s right up there. Proud of our hometown. I like it best when SAM brings in really unique exhibitions, things that you aren’t going to see everywhere and you aren’t going to follow along to a bunch of different cities.
Do you attend many SAM events?
N: I like the museum events because they break things up—you can go see the art, and then you can explore in your own way how you feel about that art. When we go to Remix, I always really like those because they break up how you establish a relationship with art—you look at it and then do something.
S: You’ve always been interested in art. I mean, I was one of those moms that threw the shower curtain on the kitchen floor and gave them paint, said go.
N: I don’t remember that!
S: You don’t? You remember your birthday in the garage. We covered the walls in the garage and we painted.
S: Everybody remembers that.
As the holidays approach, give the gift of art to someone so they can enjoy the pleasures of SAM Membership year round. As Nina, a SAM member for 10 years says, “If you want to know a place you have to find out where the museum is.” And the museum is right here for you. Share it with someone special! Gift memberships are available now!
G: Where do we start? Why do you like art? My experience with art is that it’s always a moment for me to step out of busy life and focus. I can make it my own through the experience—that’s really interesting and fun for me. That’s why I like art.
B: I search for inspiration all the time. I am inspired by art, inspired by people, inspired by writing, and inspired by design. I think art is all part of that universe of inspiration. That’s what keeps me going and keeps me near creative solutions—whether it’s for work or with each other. I like seeing people who are inspired to create something and I like getting into the psychology behind the art; that’s how I connect to it—not just visually.
What do you do for work, Ben? What are you seeking inspiration for?
B: I work for a nonprofit and we are always looking for new and innovative ways to get more donors and more money or more connection with our mission. I think in this day and age creative solutions are important. How do you communicate with people and talk with people? I think when you manage people it’s a creative process, too.
Gary, what do you do? What is your job or your passion?
G: The part of my life that I consider what I do is—I’m a square dance caller and I have been for over 30 years. It’s the only real artistic outlet that I have. What I do working with people and calling square dancing allows me to express myself. The result of that is that people have a lot fun and so that’s what I do. I enjoy the square dance element of my life and being a caller and producing that for people.
B: Together, we like to travel. Wherever we travel to we always go to the museums. So wherever we go, we go to art. Always, no matter what city.
Is that just because you like art and you’re there?
G: Until three years ago, I lived in a very rural setting and didn’t have access to a lot. When I go to a city one of the things I do is seek out art wherever it was available, because it wasn’t that available where I used to live. We both like modern art the most as far as going to museums. If we go to NYC, it’s always going to be a visit to MOMA.
B: Where are the gay bars, where are the museums? I like architecture as well. The experience of the Guggenheim—even if the art isn’t very good, the experience of Frank Lloyd Wright’s dizzying structure is really cool. I think you have been to the Pompidou, too, right? That was the very first one that really blew my mind in Paris.
Is art something you do together? You enter into a museum together . . . but then what happens?
B: We go into a museum together and go very fast and we absorb as much as we can and let ourselves be drawn to something. I don’t know if it is our attention span but that was one of the things we clicked on as a couple early on.
G: I think we have an equal awareness of what is at a particular museum, so we already have a little bit of knowledge of why we are drawn there.
Why did you join SAM?
B: I remember when they first built the building here downtown. It was great to have a nice art museum here. I am at a stage of my life where I want to integrate more with my city. In the ’90s it wasn’t cool to integrate with establishments. It was just the ’90s. The city has changed, it’s ok to support them and also I aged a little bit from the 20-something that I was. I think integrating into this is really good for us right now. We’ve been together for a long time. There are things we do together and things we do apart. This is something we do together.
It’s a relationship thing you can integrate into your life as a couple. It gives you a date night with an event.
G: Something we definitely enjoy together.
B: I am really excited about the extended hours on Thursdays. We love to do a late night event at SAM and then bop around downtown.
Be like SAM members Ben and Gary and get excited about the upcoming season of Art of Jazz, taking place at SAM every second Thursday of the month. Presented in collaboration with Earshot Jazz 88.5 KNKX, next up is an Art of Jazz favorite, the Kareem Kandi Band on October 13. These events are free and funded in part by SAM Members. Consider supporting SAM by becoming a member today and make it a late night on the town with SAM next Thursday!
Pharmacology student, UW
Student member / gift membership since 2013
You’re in the sciences? I’m a pharmacy student right now.
Do you like it? Yes! I do.
Why do you like going to art museums? Being a part of the science world, there’s not a lot of ways to express yourself—everything is black and white. So it’s fun to get out of my box and go explore different museums. And then it’s nice because SAM has a lot of events like Remix.
Do you think of art as a way to learn about the city you’re in? Art is definitely a way to learn about the city. In the sciences things are more rigid, with art the rules are more free and free flowing. Exploring helps me express my creativity and have fun, seeing the things in the city. Being a SAM member is a way to get around and learn more about Seattle and what art can do.
No matter what you’re studying, student memberships are discounted to create increased access to art for anyone with a student ID. Consider how art impacts your life join SAM as a Student Member today!