Mending the Seams

Written by Callie Montalvo

The Fabric Workshop and Museum, located right across the street from Philadelphia’s Convention Center, has focused on the idea of young emerging artists working hard in the studio to create and share fabulous fabric designs. Founded in the 70s, FWM has grown into creating not just fabric designs, but experimental pieces of art with various materials, increasing their collection. As their collection grew from their artist-in-residence programs, in 1996, FWM had added “museum” to the name as they began to showcase more of their artists’ work in the galleries. In our assessment for the semester in Issues of Museums, we each look into how our chosen institutions work well in certain areas and where they can improve. In his books Likeconomics and 8 Ways to Make Art Organizations More Human, with JP Morales, Rohit Bhargava gives his readers a deeper look into how businesses and organizations could be more successful long term by maintaining the ideal of being likeable with their public, or in our case, visitors. He creates the reality that arts and cultural organizations will, in the years to come, need to find ways or utilize their resources to stimulate approaches to create likeable connections. Bhargava’s T-R-U-S-T idea meaning trust, relevance, unselfishness, simplicity, and timing, gives us some of the tools to look at likeability further.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum offers a variety of programming, lectures, and performances along with temporary exhibitions and artists they showcase. They still continue their artist-in-residence program as well as including apprenticeship programs for high school, undergraduate and postgraduate students. Looking into TRUST with FWM, what I seem to be most concerned about is the question of the audience that the museum receives that aren’t from the art world, such as myself. even though I am a huge fabric design fan, on my guided tour, a general tour around the two buildings that every visitor receives, I felt welcome, but still a bit of an outsider. Maybe here, there is a conflict of trying to find and identify that secondary audience in order to connect with them.

Clearly, there is no unselfishness about them from their generous admission price of $3 and being set up with a docent to walk through the galleries with you. Despite this, wouldn’t FWM’s lack of connection to the Philadelphia local community be considered a bit of selfishness in itself? While they encourage collaboration, why aren’t they sharing their ideas of experimentation with their neighbors, the Institute of Contemporary Art or artists that sell and showcase their work on Fabric Row? In this sense, they could utilize their resources locally as well, and not just from working with artists that come into their programs, even though showcasing their active participants is also something that anyone can find likeable.

While looking pinning the needles through the fabric, the Fabric Workshop Museum has a great deal of elements we all can say are likeable. With that being said, there is still room to mend the split seams, with just FWM embracing it’s location and the resources around them or even having their own resources and collections properly accessible on their website for us outsiders to get a glimpse of what they do, without feeling like cut strands of thread.