Alicia Thomas, the new executive director of the Virginia Quilt Museum, said she has only made one quilt in her life, but is an avid embroiderer.
Thomas said she came from at least two generations of quilters in her family: her mother and grandmother. But as the new director of the Virginia Quilt Museum, which started in late September, Thomas, along with the Quilting Museum team, is betting that even those who have never made a quilt can learn valuable things about history. of the museum.
âOnce you’ve worked here long enough, you know all about the quilt,â said Rachel Gregor, the personnel curator. âA lot of people walk past a quilt museum and say, ‘This is a blanket museum.’ But a lot of people don’t realize the amount of love and story that comes through each quilt. When visitors think about how many stitches a quilt has and how long it took to make itâ¦ you can see [their] faces light up.
In addition to her family ties to fabric art, Thomas is a museum fanatic who has experience in development and nonprofit organizations. Thomas, who graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in American history, said she developed a love of history as an undergraduate student after she “stumbled” into a class. introduction to history with Christine Daniels at MSU. After an internship at the Charleston Museum, in Charleston SC, while studying at university, Thomas said she knew she wanted to do work involving museums.
âI really love all of these lessons that you can learn from objects and I love that it’s a way of teaching history that isn’t just limited to books,â Thomas said. âIt’s one of the main things that attracts me to museumsâ¦ it’s a more interactive way and maybe a more engaging way of teaching our history. Reading is not accessible to everyone. I myself am mildly dyslexic. It’s a way to reach a non-academic audience and help them access the story in a way that suits them best.
After college, Thomas first worked at a rare book museum in Philadelphia called Rosenbach. She worked her way into a development role, planning an annual gala held at the luxurious Rittenhouse Hotel a few blocks away. Thomas said it was in this role that she discovered she enjoyed development work. Prior to coming to the Virginia Quilt Museum as Executive Director, Thomas worked as an operations manager for an environmental nonprofit in Washington, DC. She said she was excited to return to the museum scene.
“[As an operations manager], I really missed having interactions with outside people. I just got really involved with the membership and the events. I really wanted to come back to museums to have these interactions with a larger community and, in this post, to kind of help grow and build that community, âsaid Thomas.
Thomas said she was particularly excited to join the Virginia Quilt Museum, as she said it has large gallery spaces on three floors of the building, a rare gift in small nonprofits. . Additionally, Thomas said she was delighted that the museum was located in the historic Warren Sipe House, completed in 1856, as she is an avid historical preservation enthusiast high in episodes of “This Old House,” when Thomas was growing up. in southern Michigan.
Thomas said she wanted to expand the programming and event offerings at the Quilt Museum, help with development campaigns and fundraising, with the goal of making the museum more accessible by continuing to offer virtual programming. and also laying the groundwork for the physical renovations of the Warren Sipe. House so that the three floors can become accessible to people with disabilities.
âShe has a lot of skills related to grant development and writing that will really help the museum move to another level of financial sustainability,â said Sandy Maxfield, Board Treasurer. âA non-profit organization exists to meet its load. The museum’s mission is to share quilting culture and art with a wide audience. The goal is to do things that accomplish this mission. Another thing that is unique about a nonprofit is that we are supported by our members by our donors, we have worked harder to secure grants. All sources of financial support are what make it possible to achieve our mission. A characteristic of a non-profit organization is that it exists thanks to the generosity of our supporters. “
Thomas said she was thrilled to be working with the current board, which she says has many members with experience in nonprofit work.
âOne of the great things about the board here is that they’re very involved, but they also have their own experience in museums or art galleries, so they really understand how nonprofit organizations work, âThomas said. “We are probably planning a pretty big fundraising campaign over the next few years.”
Members of the museum’s board said they were delighted to have Thomas on board as the new director.
âWe are delighted to have Alicia as our new Executive Director,â said Maxfield. âShe has a wonderful experience working with nonprofits, fundraising and community outreach and all kinds of things that are going to be wonderful for the museum as it emerges from the COVID era. She’s very vibrant, energetic and very organized, so we couldn’t be more thrilled that she came to Harrisonburg and created the Quilt Museum.
The board has future goals that are in line with Thomas’s.
âWe really hope to continue to present a rotating program that offers all kinds of perspectives on quilting, from traditional to modern quilts to artistic quilts. We also hope to start outreach efforts to attract a more diverse audience. We started during COVID to do more online programming and I think after COVID we will continue with online programming, âsaid Maxfield.