Member letter from Isaac Facio, TSA President 2023-2025, and Co-Vice Presidents Sharbreon Plummer (President-elect) and L Vinebaum (Symposia Academic Chair)
Dear members of the Textile Society of America,
We acknowledge and honor the indigenous peoples whose home is the land, both ceded and unceded, on which we write: The Council of the Three Fires—the Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Odawa—and Miami, Ho-Chunk, Sac, Fox, and Chahta Yakni (Choctaw), Houma, and Choctaw. We acknowledge our presence on Indigenous lands as uninvited guests or settlers (Isaac and L) and as the descendent of enslaved Africans (Sharbreon).
We open our letter with deep gratitude to you, our members and our textile community. Thank you for your ongoing support for TSA during what’s been an enormously challenging few years. As your new President and Co-Vice Presidents, we hope this letter serves as an indicator of our values, intentions and goals of furthering the sustainability of TSA, and our field, together. As a triad that is testing a new (to us) board leadership model, it is our intention to model deep accountability, collaboration and thoughtful division of power as guiding lights in this work.
As a membership organization, sustaining our relationship to you, our member community, is of utmost importance to us. One of the very highest priorities for leadership and the entire TSA board of directors is to better connect with and engage in dialogue with you, our members. While the pandemic disrupted TSA’s regular in-person programming and activities, it also brought new possibilities for virtual programs that are much more accessible and affordable than in-person gatherings. This year and into 2024, TSA will continue offering virtual programming for our members, while developing additional opportunities for members to gather, converse, and share your work with each other—as you’ll see outlined in TSA’s goals for 2023.
Another critical priority for leadership is continuing TSA’s ongoing equity and anti-racism work. In 2021 the Board identified anti-racist structural change, organizational development, and programming as TSA’s central priority, and TSA’s goals for 2023 emerge outward from this central imperative. Like many other organizations, TSA is grappling with structural whiteness, racism and inequity in our organization, and the field of textiles more generally. Textiles are inextricably linked to some of the most horrific systems of white supremacist, racist and colonial violence, like chattel slavery, Native dispossession and genocide, and the Anthropocene. Yet historically not enough attention was paid to these connections in our field. TSA has at times also been guilty of not paying adequate attention to issues of race, colonialism, and whiteness in the study and dissemination of knowledge about textiles. In particular, we name the 2016 Symposium in Savannah, which largely elided conversations about colonialization and the transatlantic slave trade, and missteps at the 2018 Symposium in Vancouver with regard to cultural appropriation. Most importantly, we recognize how these actions silenced and erased the voices of members who expressed concern and valid critique. We apologize to TSA members and former members who were harmed, and we reaffirm TSA’s commitment to anti-racism and equity work. To date, this work has included member-facing programming like in-person and online Symposia; the 2022 Reclaiming Futures series; much greater international and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) representation on the Board; a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee; and ongoing anti-racism training for the Board in partnership with artEquity.
2023 Goals Overview: These goals are divided into five key areas, with action items that offer a look into our priorities for this year.
○ Create opportunities to hear from and better connect with our members with a view to developing resources and programming in response.
○ Develop opportunities for members to connect with each other and share their research, art, scholarship, projects (etc.) in non-Symposium years.
○ Create opportunities for members to connect with the Board: look out for conversations and listening sessions in May, June, and August 2023, on themes including programming/the Symposium, collaboration and community, equity and anti-racism.
○ Include images on the TSA website that showcase members’ creative + curatorial work.
○ Programming for 2023 will include talks, panel discussions, a colloquium series, and programming that showcase recent TSA fellows and the work of our members.
○ In addition to webinar format lectures and panels, programming and member activities will make use of the Zoom meeting format to foster conversation and connection.
○ 2023 programming will lead into the next Symposium, planned for late Fall 2024 (modality of in-person or online remains to be determined).
○ Expand efforts to include more robust fundraising and a deepened focus on development as a sustained, collective effort.
○ Create a comprehensive development plan that identifies new fundraising pursuits and revenue goals; this year TSA will pursue a designated number of grants in support of programming and our continued anti-racism commitment and sustainability.
○ Create more ways for members to support TSA through monthly sustaining memberships, and develop mechanisms for members with greater means to subsidize membership fees for those who can’t afford them.
4. Anti-racism, justice, and equity work:
○ Continue to provide and develop programming that centers anti-racism and equity, based on a clear set of values that is articulated externally.
○ Develop a decolonizing statement that includes a land acknowledgement, establishing relationships with local Indigenous nations, and create best practices for addressing colonialism’s connections to textiles.
○ Develop a labor acknowledgement that recognizes Black labor, and create best practices for addressing connections between textiles and chattel slavery.
○ Making TSA’s website and programming activities accessible and adopting best practices to ensure accessibility.
○ Continue TSA’s partnership with artEquity, and develop strategies for member participation in anti-racism trainings.
○ Ongoing high-level work to build an equitable and anti-racist infrastructure and capacity.
5. Infrastructure and organizational structures:
○ Continue to better define board and staff tasks and roles in support of a more sustainable pace for everyone.
○ Continue to implement better communication and coordination across committees.
○ Increase TSA member representation on committees, including in core areas like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI); Membership, Outreach and Programming; Communications; Awards & Scholarships, Voluntarism & Mentorship; and Finance and Development.
○ Begin a search for an executive director later this year.
Internally, we are at a critical juncture in our development, including the forthcoming hire of a new Administrative Coordinator and early stages of the search for an Executive Director. This has required us to take extended time to strategize, plan and reflect on how we can truly work sustainably. We are aware of the frustrations that members can encounter and we’re actively working toward better communication and support structures. At the same time, it’s important to emphasize that TSA has only one paid part-time staff member, and is run by an entirely volunteer Board whose members also hold full-time jobs. We ask for your grace and understanding as we do the necessary work (above) to ensure that TSA can be responsive and sustainable. Our common interests in textiles bring us together as a community, and we have a lot to learn from each other.
Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, the TSA Board—like so many of our members—continues to grapple with an overall sense of burnout. The global pandemic that upended TSA’s activities profoundly impacted our members and our field. In addition to negotiating the virus’ very real threat to the health and lives of ourselves and our loved ones, the pandemic took a toll on our communities, institutions, and livelihoods. Many in our TSA community were ill, cared for loved ones, and lost loved ones. Many also lost employment, income, and creative and scholarly opportunities. The pandemic isn’t over, and we recognize the ongoing struggles, traumas, losses, and challenges that we continue to face individually and collectively.
As much as textiles are linked to violence and exploitation, they are also deeply connected to healing, care, community, cultural survival, resistance, and joy. As incoming leadership, we prioritize a culture of care, collectivity and community. Moreover, we honor the work of those who have come before us, and look excitedly to future possibilities with the brilliant minds we’ve welcomed on board this year. We work as a collective, by consensus, and in community with each other and the Board. Whether through time, talent or treasure, we invite you to do this work with and alongside us. The entire Board looks forward to more and deeper engagement with our members this year. Thank you immensely for supporting TSA and believing in the power and importance of textiles.
We welcome Melinda Watt into her role as Immediate Past President of TSA and we express our deep gratitude to all the members of the TSA Board of Directors who rotated off at the end of 2022, to the continuing and incoming members of TSA’s Board of Directors, to Kris Cnossen, Lauren Baccus, and Nancy Hall for their invaluable contributions in supporting TSA’s work so far this year, and to Karen Hampton as a source of inspiration for our work and for the field.
Isaac, Sharbreon, and L
Image: TSA member Sally C. Garner, Altered Timelines, 2021, bamboo knitting needles twined with paper raffia. www.sallycgarner.com; IG: @sally.c.garner; facebook.com/SallyCGarner