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2022-2024 Grant Proposal to the Robert and Ardis James Foundation

Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories 2.0: Sustain, Envision, Connect, 2020-2024

Proposal submitted on: 10/29/21
Grant period: 1/1/22 – 12/31/24


View project budget for proposal here.
Download full proposal as a pdf here.

Quilt Alliance Proposal for the Robert and Ardis James Foundation

Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories 2.0: Sustain, Envision, Connect (Years 3-5)

October 29, 2021

Objective: 

To fund years three through five of a five-year plan to sustain and care for the historic QSOS oral history project, envision new ways to interpret and present the collection and to use an inclusive partnership strategy to help groups document the stories in their communities. 

Funding request to the Robert and Ardis James Foundation:

We are seeking $81,065, 39% of the project costs of Years Three, Four and Five of this plan.

Five-year Vision:

As we near the midpoint of the five-year vision introduced in our November 2019 proposal, these objectives have been realized: 

  • Completed digitization of the 816 tape-recorded, digitally inaccessible QSOS interviews
  • Establishment of a training and ingestion workflow for the QSOS migration, with a stronger understanding of existing challenges and roadblocks for the interview migration process
  • Reached new audiences via: 
    • Running Stitch, a QSOS podcast – Since its June 2020 debut, Running Stitch has surpassed 20,000 individual episode downloads over its first two seasons, and enables previously inaccessible QSOS interviews to come to life for a new generation of quiltmakers and textile, history and art enthusiasts.
    • The Textile Talks lecture series – Attendance at these weekly textile lectures averages around 540 viewers, with hundreds more watching the recorded events. 55% of respondents in our recent Stakeholders Survey have watched our talks, and 12% of recently joined members cite it as the way they first heard of the Alliance.
    • Our virtual 2020 and 2021 Quilters Take a Moment events – Despite being held virtually, these events  were our two highest-grossing fundraisers ever. In 2021, we had 310 registrants from around the world, including both returning attendees and many first-time participants who joined or renewed the Alliance due to the event.
  • Forged new partnerships to support and amplify our work with the Nunn Center at the University of Kentucky, Sacred Threads, the Women of Color Quilters Network and Quilts of Valor.

Some activities planned for 2020 and 2021 were converted into future programming due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an inability to gather in-person. Our planned Regional Quilt Documentation project wasn’t possible due to travel restrictions. Instead, we used this opportunity to develop Quilt StoryShare, a flexible model for remote recording and digital video sharing. We postponed the Ardis James QSOS scholars program until 2022 to coincide with the postponed Not Fade Away conference, and to better utilize the newly available QSOS interviews currently in the migration pipeline. 

In the next three years, project activities will address project infrastructure, curatorial content and community outreach and engagement.

Sustain: Reopening QSOS for Research and Submissions and Organizational Sustainability

QSOS migration and indexing – We will finish QSOS work that slowed during the pandemic and make improvements to the QSOS website that will allow us to transition back to a grassroots/user-submission model for building the collection. We will improve the usability of searching and browsing on the website. We will make all interviews accessible by Jan 1, 2023 and work with a web developer to adapt our web interface to allow for new curated content. Improvements will include: adding galleries, spotlight essays, and enhancing browse options (by project, by state, date). Our budget includes two time-limited contract positions, ideally filled by students in the Graduate Certificate Program in Quilt Studies at the University of Nebraska or other contractors with a research interest in quilts, to ensure a consistent and timely completion of interview indexes. We now realize that because this task requires some specialized skills and a significant labor and training investment, it’s unlikely that a small pool of volunteer-only labor will be able to complete the migration in a timely manner. 

Restarting QSOS interview collection – In 2018, the QSOS project’s existing database went offline, necessitating the migration to the updated QSOS website currently in use. As we were re-considering how to present and share interviews online and beginning our partnership with the Nunn Center at the University of Kentucky, we decided to pause new interview collection in order to re-envision the future of the QSOS project. QSOS interview protocols and methods had not significantly evolved since its launch in 1999, but new technologies and developments in oral history best practices have emerged in the intervening years. In 2022, we will begin intensive planning for re-opening the project to new interviews with an improved grassroots model ahead of a full re-launch of the program in 2023, our 30th anniversary year. This work will be guided by a QSOS steering committee with longstanding connections to both the quiltmaking and oral history communities, with opportunities for piloting the new model with partner groups in 2022 and early 2023.

Addressing organizational sustainability – The Quilt Alliance board is committed to adjusting staff pay to meet current fair market rates for nonprofits of our size and scope. Alliance staff includes an executive director (full time, salaried), a projects manager (30 hours/week, paid hourly) and an office manager (20 hours per week, paid hourly). Ten board members are unpaid volunteers who contribute 2-10 hours of in-kind labor per month. Staff compensation is currently just over half that of comparable organizations’ and this will be addressed via progressive adjustments to salary and pay rates over the next three years.

Envision: The Ardis James QSOS Scholars Program

We will expand the Ardis James QSOS Scholars program to enlist participants who can envision new uses for QSOS content and bring the collection to the public in a vivid and accessible format. We plan to begin selecting two scholars every other year and integrate each cohort in programming for that year. In 2022 Scholars will be chosen from board and staff nominated candidates. With the establishment of a formal application process in 2024, they will be chosen through an open call and application process. Their responsibilities will include curating the QSOS collection to create galleries, essays or creative works for sharing on the QSOS and Alliance websites, and presenting talks or panels for the Not Fade Away conference, Quilters Take a Moment and Textile Talks events.  The Ardis James QSOS Scholars webpages will be updated to showcase the original research outcomes that each new scholar contributes. This content will also be linked from the 

QSOS website.

Connect: Quilt StoryShare and Running Stitch, a QSOS Podcast

Quilt StoryShare Initiative – We will work with three partner groups to launch Quilt StoryShare, an inclusive, grassroots model for communities to document their quilts and makers via Quilt Alliance projects. We will continue to broaden the reach of existing quilt history and research by focusing on community partnerships as a way to bring more voices and stories to the QSOS historic collection, and the Go Tell It! user-submitted video project. We will work with four distinct partner groups to assist them in documenting the quilts and makers in their communities:

  • Women of Color Quilters Network (lead community advisor: Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, quilt artist, historian and founder of the WCQN), 
  • Consortium of partners who exhibit and support Native American quilters (lead community advisor: Gwen Westerman, quilter, teacher, Dakota speaker and recently named Poet Laureate of Minnesota)
  • Quilts of Valor (lead community advisor Mary Kerr)
  • Quilt guilds and groups with an existing history of documenting their organizations (lead community advisor: A’donna Richardson, founder of the Washington State African American Quilt Documentation Project).

Our model for many aspects of the Quilt StoryShare Initiative is StoryCorps’s Mobile Tour, a national outreach program (both virtual and in-person) that pairs StoryCorps staff and volunteers with community partners to record and preserve oral histories with members of that community. Quilt StoryShare will involve these steps for each community partner we work with:

  1. Hold planning meetings with QA staff and partner advisors and leadership to help us better understand their community and their documentation goals. 
  2. Invite community members to a Virtual Open House to meet project staff, watch and react to demonstrations of QSOS and Go Tell It! projects and learn basic oral history and recording skills. 
  3. Schedule and coach community members to record Go Tell It! and/or QSOS interviews using video equipment in person, via Zoom services or a hybrid model using both.
  4. Share videos with a community celebration event, as part of Alliance events, and archive on both partner and QA websites, YouTube and social media.

Running Stitch, a QSOS podcast – We will produce four more seasons of the Running Stitch podcast to continue raising public awareness of the QSOS collection. Janneken Smucker and QA Oral History Project Manager Emma Parker will develop and publish seasons three through six  of Running Stitch, a QSOS Podcast with content based on themes including:

  • Young quiltmakers reflecting on historic interviews in the collection in contrast to their experience in 2021,
  • International quiltmakers–revisiting quiltmakers who lived outside of the US when they were first interviewed,
  • Recent award winners reflecting on QSOS interviewees who talked about how awards and competitions affected their work, and
  • Quilting pioneers interviewed for QSOS reflecting on their experience in contrast to what they are working on or observing now.

Running Stitch interviews are also archived with the Nunn Center as a sub-project of QSOS, so the complete interviews with each podcast guest will be available to listeners interested in exploring these topics further.

Project and Organizational Background:

The Quilt Alliance is the only organization committed to documenting every member of the quilting community: from traditional quilters to art quilters, first-time quilters to quilt collectors and museum curators. The Quilt Alliance’s Quilters’ S.O.S. – Save Our Stories project is the single largest grassroots oral history project about quiltmakers in the world. Go Tell It at the Quilt Show is the first video oral history project documenting quilt stories from quiltmakers and owners.

In 2023, the Quilt Alliance will celebrate its 30th year as a national nonprofit. The Alliance started as a small, all-volunteer group of historians, collectors, artists, archivists and digital humanities experts dedicated to finding an online home for documentation generated by the state documentation projects during the American Quilt Revival in the 1970s. The Alliance is now a professionally run organization with a nimble team of three staff and ten board members and a substantial network of stakeholders and partners. We weathered the financial crisis of 2008, three office relocations and most recently adapted to the unprecedented challenges of a pandemic. Our virtual roots prepared us well to stay in touch with our members and our partners and to continue the important work of  taking historic “snapshots” of life and quilting during unprecedented times, for posterity, and equally important, in service to our community. As one member said, “The QA has been a sanity keeper during the pandemic.” Our 30th anniversary mantra underscores the urgency of documenting, preserving and sharing quilt history: No More Anonymous Quiltmakers!

Roadmap for Five-Year Goals

2020202120222023 (30th anniversary)2024
Programming & initiativesTextile Talks
StoryBee
Members-only QSOS interviews 
Textile Talks
StoryShare pilot with Sacred Threads, IQM, The Quilt Show and museums
Textile Talks
StoryShare guild challenge and partner project launch
StoryShare partner projectsStoryShare partner projects
QSOS ActivitiesNew QSOS website and protocol finalized
Interview digitization completed
Volunteer training began
Large-scale interview migration began
Contract and Alliance staff migrate and index QSOS interviews to new site
Ardis James QSOS scholars cohort 1
Planning and early-stage testing for re-launch of QSOS project
Ongoing curation and feature of existing interviews
Public programming and grassroots interview collection underway
Ardis James QSOS Scholars cohort 2
PodcastPodcast launches–Season 1Season 2 & 3releasedSeason 4-6
Fundraising & eventsQuilters Take a Moment
Quilters Take a Moment
Not Fade Away conferenceQuilters Take ManhattanNot Fade Away conference