On Nov. 15th, the Chattanooga Times Free Press ran an editorial titled, “Museum Needles Taxpayers.”
The newspaper seems to be concerned about wasting federal tax dollars on something as trivial as a quilt museum. The quilt museum the newspaper chose to target is the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Neb. The museum is housed on the East Campus of the University of Nebraska with its academic home in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design in the College of Education and Human Sciences.
From the very onset of the editorial, the newspaper used language calculated to belittle the quilting industry. The opening paragraph begins, “A quilt museum may seem like an ideal summer vacation destination for the Waltons, Aunt Bee or Ma Ingalls, but quilting fails to hold the interest of most Americans today.” Then the newspaper goes on to say that since department stores carry a wide array of affordable bedding, no one needs to be bothered to labor over scraps of material to make a quilt. In the newspaper’s opinion, “quilts have become largely irrelevant in modern culture.”
The newspaper goes on to use terms such as “tax dollars slipped into the budget,” “Nebraska’s quilt cathedral snagged … ,” “taxpayer-funded giveaways,” “federal handouts,” “boondoggle,” and “raided federal coffers.” And it all boiled down to the fact that the museum is expected to receive over $80,000 in federal and state dollars this year. You can read the whole piece here: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/nov/15/museum-needles-taxpayers-free-press/
While I understand that our country is in a total mess financially and should cut costs where possible, I have to wonder about the benefit of cutting funding to the arts. And quilting is an art form just as painting with watercolors or oils, sculpture, or photography, or any other medium.
Quilting is also a business and it’s a far cry from some peoples’ idea of little old ladies sitting around a quilt frame in the basement of the church. It’s a business that generates over $3 billion per year. This “irrelevant” pastime supports the fabric industry, the publishing industry, button manufacturers, paper and plastic bag makers, embroidery floss and thread companies, sewing machine companies, long-arm quilting machine companies and the list goes on and on.
Not only does “quilting” support the large businesses, it also supports the home-based small business such as the individuals who make their living quilting for others using their talents on long-arm quilting machines, pattern designers, book authors and teachers to name a few.
People who hold jobs in the quilting industry, are taxed by every government agency that can level a tax. Does anyone really think that those tax dollars are irrelevant?
But to go a bit beyond the money aspect, quilting is so much more than a blanket. It is history, much of it women’s history. Women have contributed so much to this country, yet often their contributions are ignored or trivialized. Women have spoken loudly about political injustices for years, using the soft medium of fabric.
In 1995, women who had been convicted of committing felonies against their abusive partners, made a quilt depicting their experiences. The images were drawn onto the fabric and were graphic and disturbing and moved Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones to commute the sentences of the women who had made the quilt. The quilt was more powerful than any legal brief that had been offered in the defense of those battered women. Read the full article by Jane Amelon here: http://www.quiltindex.org/journals/article.php?Akid=2-B-84.
In 1916, Dr. William Rush Dunton, a psychiatrist and pioneer in developing the field of occupational therapy, purchased patterns from Marie Webster to use in his program. He had borrowed some of Webster’s quilts for an exhibit he had planned to hold at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital near Baltimore. By the time the exhibit was up and running, his patients had completed a “Wind Blown Tulip” quilt.
Dunton had recognized something that every quilter has discovered for her or himself: Quilting is good for the soul. Quilters quilt through grief and heartache and find peace in the process. I know this to be true having quilted my way through a nasty divorce and the loss of my parents.
I could go on and on and continue to prove my point about the contribution of quilts and their relevancy in today’s world. I could enumerate a host of benefits to the quilter as well as to the people who view exhibits and the towns in which they are held. And still the question remains, should federal and state tax dollars be spent on funding for a quilt museum?
For me the answer is, of course they should. I don’t arrive at that answer simply because I’m a quilter. I arrive at that answer because quilts are relevant and important just as much today as ever. They are part of our country’s history. It has taken years for quilting to be recognized as the art form it is and I don’t believe in taking steps backwards.
I can also think of many ways to cut tax dollar expenditures. I could start with the “bridge to nowhere” or the Murtha Airport in Johnstown, Pa., that has received over $150 million in tax dollars and has everything but planes landing. Somehow the $80,000 the quilt museum might receive this year pales in comparison.
But then, that’s just me.