Center City: The Fabric Museum And Workshop Enriches Art Education

The Fabric Workshop and Museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special exhibition: “Process and Practice: 40 Years of Experimentation” which will run through March 25.

“Our upcoming exhibit is curated by Susan Talbott, our second ever executive director,” Christina Roberts, the director of education, said. “She thought it would be very interesting in our 40th anniversary year to showcase process and practice and the experimentation that takes place in our studios.”

The exhibition allows visitors access to special content that has never been publicly shown.

“We have an artist-in-residency program, and artists come and work in the studios and experiment and create new works of art that are exhibited all around the world and in our own galleries,” Roberts said. “We collect and create artist boxes that are stored in archives that have all the process materials and experimentation of the artists’ work, such as notes, tests, books, visual imagery and research.”

Talbott has selected work from many of the major artists that the Fabric Workshop and Museum has worked with, including Laurie Anderson, Chris Burden, Cai Guo-Qiang and Kara Walker. The FWM is also offering other programs to accompany this exhibit.

“For this exhibition, we have 13 opportunities to come in and get a behind-the-scenes talk from our master printers and learn about the collaborative and creative processes,” Roberts said.

The FWM offers many other programs to the public year round.

“As a museum educator, we’re charged with activating our exhibitions and making contemporary works of art accessible to a broad audience,” Roberts said. “We have scholarships, we offer programs for teens, families and young adults, and we offer hands on workshops.”

These programs are made to be easily accessible to students in Philadelphia.

“Study tours are offered Monday through Sunday for $3 a person, but we also waive admissions for Title I schools,” Roberts said. “They’re usually one time tours to come in and see the exhibition, but we also offer a hands on component so students can learn about screen printing while making connections to the exhibition and do a hands on activity that relates to their classroom studies.”

However, the museum strives to cater to a variety of audiences.

“The Fabric Workshop and Museum is a contemporary art museum, but we also work with textiles, which makes it a wonderful way for people to come in and be very openminded because fabric is very familiar to them,” Roberts said. “We try to work with the community to give them hands-on skills and art making skills so they can develop critical collaborative and problem solving skills that can transfer to other areas of their lives.

Roberts also explained that because of the large amount of art schools and universities in Philadelphia, the FWM is able to host many college students.

Shelby Donnelly, the museum education coordinator, talked about the process of selecting high school apprentices.

“I review all the applications and schedule interviews with the students,” Donnelly said. “It’s kind of like a portfolio review, where they’ll come in, meet me, and then we’ll just talk about their interests and their artwork.”

Donnelly also believes that the process is good practice for the art students.

“I feel like it’s good experience for the kids to go through that application process with the interview portfolio review,” Donnelly said. “And then it’s a hard job, but I can only pick five students from the applicants that I will work with very closely over three months.”

Some of those students, like Josh Graupera, eventually return to work at the FWM.

“I was an apprentice here in 2014 and I came back this term to run the program,” Graupera said. “I feel as though that’s something that is common with a lot of artists that come through the Fabric Workshop.”

Graupera explains that the training he received during his apprenticeship gave him the skills he needed to continue printing elsewhere in Philadelphia and to hone his skill set.

“We teach a really specific skill of repeat printing on air, so people are able to develop that and create their own printing presses or start their own print shops,” Graupera said. “We’ve had many students go on and successfully start their own businesses based on repeat printing.”


– Text, images and video by Emily Pentz

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