A few days ago, our creative director Megan Dougherty nosed out a newspaper editorial written by the Chattanooga Times Free Press that slammed the use of public funding for the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska.
In particular, the paper contends that federal monies are wrongly pledged to the IQSC because its focus is too narrow and it does not benefit the majority of the population. Besides, nobody but “Aunt Bee, The Waltons and Ma Ingalls” are interested in quilts anymore. It’s just another “pork project.”
Oh, what the heck! We’ll save you the trouble and repeat one of the cogent points. The editorial says, “It is said that ‘a quilt will warm your body and comfort your soul.’ With over $1 million of tax money spent subsidizing the International Quilt Study Center and Museum since its inception, it could also be said that ‘a quilt museum will snatch your wallet and take your money.’”
This industry generates $3.6 billion annually in America alone and employs thousands of men and women, but people aren’t interested in quilting anymore? Gee, Solyndra (now defunct) got a $535 million loan guarantee and this editorial writer is steamed about a museum and study center that has gotten about $1 million total during the past 15 years. Oh, and it’s still in business. In fact, its collection is growing, as is its usage by industry scholars and visitors.
But we digress.
Many quilters have responded eloquently to this ill-conceived editorial, including GenQ publisher Jake Finch, who went on a rant. (Her two comments are listed in the comment section under “alljake” if you’re interested.) We feel the editorial writer (and as a newspaper editorial, the writer should remain anonymous, though usually it’s the opinion editor who cranks the thoughts out) did not do his or her job in researching the industry and the IQSC’s efforts before passing sarcasm and judgement.
Thanks to The Quilting in America Survey conducted every few years since the turn of this century, q-biz info is so easily found on the Internet that we can only conclude that the writer was too lazy to bother looking. More disturbing is the writer’s premise that importing mass-produced factory quilts replaces the need for what today’s quilters, fiber artists, sewists and stitchers create. Most concerning is that this writer, working off the stereotype of elderly country women stitching in rocking chairs, shows no respect for how quilting has defined American women (mostly) over the generations.
One particularly obnoxious and cliche riddled line in the editorial stated, ”…the National Endowment for the Humanities raided federal coffers…” The IQSC and Museum perfectly align with the NEH mission. Yesterday’s quilts are a reflection of our history as women and Americans. Today’s quilts reflect and document our interests and concerns, and so much more. And yes, we can argue about how public money is spent, but this piece transcends what could be a valid fiscal debate into dissing several centuries of women’s handwork into irrelevance.
We emailed the two opinion editors listed at the paper, and urged them to do more research into quilting and acknowledge the many women AND men who earn part or all of their income from this so-called irrelevant pastime. We gave them links to the 2010 Quilting in American Survey, and our own 2011 Modern Quilting Survey, for comprehensive industry info. And then we asked them to leave off the chauvinistic stereotypes and jabs.
We thought we’d share the response:
Just because you like quilting and are excited to defend the hobby, it does not mean that it is appropriate for the federal government (and, more specifically, taxpayers who either have no interest in quilting, or live too far from Nebraska to ever benefit from the museum) to fund the quilting museum.
“It is a pork project that advantages a very narrow group of people at the expense of all others. It is simply not the role of the federal government to fund special interest museums, no matter how nifty you think they are.
“I encourage you to continue quilting and encouraging the growth of quilting. However, those who have no interest in quilting should not be forced by lawmakers and bureaucrats to fund an homage to your hobby – just like you shouldn’t be forced to pay for the race car, merry-go-round and Mark Twain museums that also snag federal handouts.
Jake doesn’t rant silently. Her answer, which we’ve edited for length, but not for tone or content:
“Dear Mr. Johnson:
“First, Jake is short for Jacqueline, a point I do not hold you wrong for, but which is also easily searched and discovered with a couple of keystrokes. It’s why I know that you’re male instead of female.
“Second, if a federal program, like the NEH, is established to support arts efforts, and quilting is an art and has significant historical value…Since the NEH’s board deems that the effort supports its humanities classification, what is your issue? I would never presume to say an auto museum is merely ‘nifty’ just because I don’t care a lick about cars. I instead respect that there is a historical significance to the history of auto making as well as respecting the art, technology and design involved in creating cars.
“Opinion editors rarely like their opinions questioned, but when you have so flagrantly neglected to do your homework to determine the significance of this ‘nifty’ museum, as well as the demographics of the quilting industry, many opinion editors I personally know would table the sarcasm, defensiveness and the derision to maybe consider that their assertion has valid counterpoints and that they might have taken a wrong turn, if not in the content, then certainly in the delivery of their message.
“Would you deny federal funding to what might be perceived a loftier museum institution, such as MOMA or the Smithsonian? Are the arts, history and sociological study not worthy of ANY type of federal funding? Are the tourism dollars generated from special interest efforts to the surrounding populations not directly involved in the pursuit ‘irrelevant?’….
Tells us what you think. Are public funds ever well spent on quilting? Maybe we’re wrong about how money should be spent. But we sure know we’re not wrong on the growth and popularity of our industry and the passion of those involved. It’s why we’re able to publish GenQ, after all.
On Thursday we’ll take a deeper look into the International Quilt Study Center and Museum and what it does, exactly.