San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
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Background and History

The first museum in the United States to focus exclusively on quilts and textiles as an art form, the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2012. With compelling exhibitions of historical and contemporary textiles, engaging gallery walks and artist talks for adults, and a highly successful educational outreach program for 2nd students, we aim to increase the publicís awareness, understanding, and appreciation of quilts and textiles as a form of artistic and cultural expression that peoples worldwide have practiced for thousands of years.

Cloth is at the core of human experience. Every culture throughout history has had a textile tradition through which people learned about and sustained their social, civic and religious rituals. As largely a womanís tradition, quilting became a primary vehicle for womenís social, political and artistic expression when other forms of expression were not available to them. It was during the 1970s, when the women's movement and the feminist art movement came to full flower, that a new breed of artists, often formally educated, began choosing fiber as a fine art medium, challenging assumptions about both the intent and the content of textile art forms.

In 1977, the Santa Clara Valley Quilt Association first opened the American Museum of Quilts and Related Arts in a storefront in Los Altos. The Museum has since operated in a shopping center in Saratoga, an old San Jose Spanish Colonial home, and several leased storefronts downtown while searching for a permanent home. The Museum was incorporated in 1986 as a nonprofit public benefit museum, administered under the direction of a community-based Board of Trustees.

In late 2003 the Museum partnered with East Bay venture philanthropists headed by Steven H. Oliver, president of the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and formed the 520 South First Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to purchase and renovate a historic property. This 13,000 square-foot facility originally built in 1923 opened in September, 2005 as the Museumís permanent home. The LLC received a $1.3 million interest- free, forgivable loan from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency and additional grants to rehabilitate the property as an anchor institution in the burgeoning arts and entertainment district known as SoFA, the southern gateway to downtown San Jose. In 2010 the Museum dissolved the LLC and converted the members of the group into investors securing the deed on the property and establishing itself as the sole owner of the property at 520 South First Street.

The Museumís collection consists of some 850 quilts, garments and ethnic textiles, and a research library of more than 500 books on the history and making of quilts and textiles. For the first decade, the collection was built primarily with gifts of late 19th and early 20th century quilts from members of the founding organization. In 1999 the Museum acquired the Porcella Collection of ethnic textiles and garments, which increased its holdings by about one-third. At a time when 61% of our community members are either foreign born or the children of people born elsewhere, representing 176 of the 194 nations of the world, the Museumís collection is a valuable resource for helping people share the fabrics of their lives.

The Museum attracts approximately 18,000 visitors annually and reaches 5,000 K-12 students and their families each school year through its highly successful in-school programs. With the move to its newly renovated facility at 520 South First in July 2005, the Museum joins a cadre of other successful arts organizations in anchoring SoFA--San Joseís arts and entertainment district. Poised to provide meaningful art experiences for a broad cross-section of the community, the Museum presently offers:

  • Ambitious exhibitions in its multiple galleries;
  • Exhibit-related programs for adults;
  • Kids Create on the first Sunday of each month from 1-2:30pm; children ages 5 to 10 listen to stories about textile traditions around the world and participate in fiber art-making activities;
  • South First Fridays, when the Museum is open and free to the public from 7pm until 11pm the first Friday of the month.

This organization is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization for both federal and state tax purposes.

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