RTA Curators Make a Coast-to-Coast US Museum Tour

FRTAB and the RTA serve a clear mandate: to preserve and promote the unique textile arts of Bhutan. But how to introduce these arts into the global market ethically, sustainably, and profitably, to the maximum benefit of the very people who create them?

In July 2023, RTA Director Ugyen Tenzin, Chief Curator Pema Choden, and Finance Officer Mr. Cheda embarked upon a coast-to-coast educational tour of preeminent US textile museums and folk art markets to study best practices in museum operations, exhibitioning, and merchanising, as well as to strengthen ties with American artisans and cultural heritage experts. Below is a brief overview of the tour, whose spirit and purpose are best captured in the greeting over the entrance to the New Mexico Museum of Folk Art:  “The art of the craftsman is a bond between the peoples of the world.”

Savannah College of Art and Design

 

The RTA team’s first destination was the Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) in South Carolina. Under the guidance of SCAD Executive Director Danny Filson, the team was treated to an indepth overview of SCAD’s programs, business model, and design of the SCAD textile design school. Krista Amason, FRTAB President, was also present for the tour. It was inspiring to hear Administrator Filson describe the transformation of SCAD from a small-scale launch in 1978 into the globally recognized institution SCAD is today. SCAD’s contemporary Museum of Art actively engages with local communities while serving as a resource for students and alumni during their academic careers and beyond. The museum displays work by highly acclaimed artists to inspire and challenge students to push their creative boundaries. The SCAD tour will also serve to inform RTA strategies for attracting and retaining highly skilled faculty to the RTA Textile School.

Smithsonian Folk Life Festival and the George Washington University Textile Museum 

The RTA spent an intense three days in Washington DC, visiting the National Postal Museum, the American Indian Museum, the National Museum of Asian Art, the George Washington University Textile Museum and Art Gallery, and the museum shops in each of these locations. A key emphasis of this tour segment was to study the different strategies in attracting more visitors to the shops and maximizing sales. The team interviewed several museum retail managers to explore enhancing the retail experience at RTA and capitalizing on merchandising opportunities.

The Team also met with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (CFCH) team to discuss a possible collaboration to promote greater understanding of of Bhutan’s cultural heritage through innovative programs, research, and education. The RTA and CFCH have partnered in a longstanding program, “Supporting the Sustainability of Traditional Weaving in Bhutan” since 2017. The RTA team also attended several Smithonian International Folk Festival workshops and demonstrations to experience how large-scale festivals are managed by the Smithsonian.

Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

The International Folk Art Market of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a world-renowned folk market phenomenon. 20 years in the making, with 160 artisans representing 52 nations, IFAM is one of the largest folk markets in the world, supporting artisans as entrepreneurs as well as catalysts for social justice. IFAM’s success and reputation made it a perfect destination for the RTA team to learn about the different strategies in running a bustling marketplace that also serves as a major tourist attraction. The team also met with Cristin Sethi, Director of Education and Chair of the IFAM Selection Committee.

While in Santa Fe, the RTA team also visited the International Folk Art Museum, meeting with Textile Curator Carrie Hertz, PhD, and medical anthropologist Caroll Dunham. Carroll is also founder of the Around the World in 80 Fabrics program which raises awareness of the enviromental and climate impact of the world’s petroleum-based fast fashion.  The team was also pleased to meet with Dr. Vandana Bhandari, an educator, author, and craft expert who serves on the Board of Delhi Craft Council.

Roche Harbor, Washington State 

Against the inspiring backdrop of Puget Sound, the RTA team shares their findings and plans for next steps with Bill and Lee Anne Geiger and Krista Amason

For the final stage of their US tour, the RTA traveled to San Juan Island in Washington state where they were welcomed into the home of Bill and Lee Anne Geiger, founders of the Geiger Family Foundation and RTA’s Weaving into the Future program, Over a two-day meeting, the team reported on the RTA programs and activities supported by Weaving into the Future, as well as laying out potential programs for the future. FRTAB president Krista Amason and RTA Chair of the Development and Construction Committee Warren Amason were also present. While Weaving into the Future officially began in 2016, the Geigers have been involved with the RTA since its establishment in 2004.