Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Resilience, Craft and Design: Meet JoAnn Edwards of the Museum of Craft & Design

JoAnn Edwards, Executive Director of the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, CA stands amidst sculptures by Michael Cooper. Photographed April 9, 2013.
Resilience?  What does that have to do with the opening of the Museum of Craft and Design in Dogpatch?  Plenty, it turns out.  Not only did co-founder and executive director JoAnn Edwards have to deal with the to-be-expected difficulties of opening an 8,500 square foot museum, she had to do it without her brother and co-founder, Seb Hamamjian, by her side.

Hamamjian passed away just days before the April opening of the museum.  Edwards continued with all the events marking the opening of the museum just as she did in 2004 when her mother, who was also involved with the museum, passed away prior to the founding of the museum.  She persevered yet again in 2010 after losing their Union Square location when unsafe conditions in the building caused damage to some of the art.  Instead of closing, she soon had a series of pop-up museums open to the public.

Resilient and obviously passionate about her much stated goal of having a "museum for people who don't necessarily go to museums."

We sat down with Edwards a few days after the flurry of events marking the opening of the museum.  Nearby, workers continued to hang signs and put other finishing touches on the museum.  Although anyone would have expected her to be exhausted after the emotional roller coaster of the weeks and days leading up to the opening, Edwards projected a calm, focused intensity.
American Artist Michael Cooper with one of his sculptures at the Museum of Craft and Design in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA on Thursday, April 4, 2013. 

Why do you do what you do?

For the artists.  They do not get the recognition that they deserve.  When the museum opened in 2004, we were the first to support craft artists.  Now of course the De Young as well as other museums like the MFA in Boston and Houston support this type of artist.

But in 2004 we were the first.  Since the early 1980s, my brother and I had promoted the work of artists in craft and design through the galleries we operated in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and San Francisco.  Eventually we came to believe that while a gallery that is focused on selling art is important to an artist, a museum exhibition can change their career.  We wanted to focus and nurture artists that may not be instantly commercially successful.

But of course a non-profit museum is very different from a retail business!  And we had no idea how to start a museum.  But no one told us we were crazy to do it so we did our research then secured the needed funding, artists and management team and we were launched!
Creatures of the Deep by artist Arline Fisch at the Museum of Craft and Design in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA on Thursday, April 4, 2013.

Why Dogpatch?

Dogpatch was a very considered choice for us.  And a natural fit.  After we lost our Union Square location, we launched a series of pop-up museums.  We hosted temporary locations in several neighborhoods including the Castro, SOMA, Hayes Valley and Dogpatch. At the same time we continued to look for a permanent space. We must have looked at 100 potential locations.  One day our architect said, "you guys are scrappy and you think outside the box so look for a neighborhood like that."  We realized that he had just described Dogpatch!

We immediately felt at home as we walked around this neighborhood.  Everyone we met was welcoming.  The small town feeling really appealed to us.  And we loved being surrounded by the makers and designers who call this neighborhood home.

The other important factor in choosing Dogpatch is that the neighborhood mirrors the type of person that visits our museum.  We like to say that this isn't the "typical" museum goer.  This type of person might be a technology person or an artist or both.  Or maybe a chef or even a member of the Hells Angels!  I sometimes think that museums can be too concerned with loftier things -- we like to think that our museum is more down to earth and accessible than most museums. 
Artist Rebecca Hutchinson with her sculpture Affinity at the Museum of Craft and Design in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA on Thursday, April 4, 2013.

Who is another fascinating person you have met in Dogpatch?

So many!  We feel so supported and championed by so many Dogpatch residents and merchants.  We immediately bonded with our landlord, Greg Markoulis who worked with us to make the museum a reality.

I feel close to the team at MAC (Modern Appealing Clothing) because they are another mother, brother and sister team.

And I love what Ann Hatch is doing at Workshop Residence.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

Well, I could use a vacation!  But if I weren't doing this I would write a book.  It would be a series of short stories about family and relationships -- a subject close to my heart.

JoAnn Edwards, Executive Director of the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, CA takes a break on a bench designed for the museum by Isaac Arms. Photographed April 9, 2013.
For a slideshow of the art and exhibits at the museum, please click on this slideshow.

Article written by Patricia Kline
Photographs by Scott R. Kline

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