Tacoma Art Museum Receives First Arts Education Grant in Ten Years

By Aigner Loren Wilson

This past January, Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) won a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The grant will be used to bring awareness, resources, activities, and fund its annual Dia de los Muertos Festival that happens in the fall of each year.

With the grant, TAM plans on expanding the free community festival, one of the largest celebrations surrounding Latino culture and arts in Tacoma. Aiming to bring together people from the South Sound and Thurston County community, TAM’s festival welcomes everyone to the museum to take place in an informative and fun celebration where people can experience traditional and contemporary Latin arts and culture.

The grant received for this year’s exhibition isn’t the first in TAM’s history. Over the 80 years since its opening, TAM has won numerous grants from the NEA for the thought provoking and beautiful exhibits that it showcases.

TAM’s director of education and community engagement, Christina Westpheling, said, “This is the first time in a decade that we’ve received NEA funding specifically for educational programming.”

“Virginia Opossum (Didelphis Virginiana)” from the Audubon collection

That’s a big step for the museum in garnering support for the outreach that it has been doing to get the South Sound community involved with the arts and engaged with each other. One of the past year wins was for its Zhi LIN exhibition in 2017. “In Search of the Lost History of Chinese Migrants and the Transcontinental Railroads” by Chinese-born Seattle painter Zhi Lin aims to capture a history of immigration, disillusion, and injustice by utilizing multiple media forms.

“TAM’s mission is connecting people through art,” says Westpheling. “We pride ourselves on being a space for the community to explore past and contemporary issues as they intersect with art.”

Westpheling is excited about the recent award since it means the museum can bring in more artist and reach more people in the community. She went on to say more about why art and this grant are so important to the community, saying, “The South Sound has an amazingly creative community. From visual to performing artists, their energy makes our rainy corner of the world brighter.

In a place that experiences more rainy than sunny days, art and expression are paramount to keeping our community connected. Many of TAM’s exhibits showcase art from a variety of cultures, reminding us that we are not alone in this world, and that there are more voices out there that have so much to say.

RYAN! Feddersen

With weekly free “Neighborhood Nights,” TAM wants to be an open and accessible place for the community to engage with each other and the arts. One of it current exhibits, “The Naturalist and The Trickster: Audubon/Ryan!” has an interactive 75 foot mural that people are welcome to draw on during select nights. There are other interactive exhibits at the museum that encourage the visitor to go a step further when experiencing the pieces.

And it doesn’t stop there. “TAM’s annual community festivals such as Dia de los Muertos and ‘In the Spirit: Northwest Native Festival’ provide an opportunity for diverse communities from the South Sound and beyond to come together and celebrate at the Museum,” says Westpheling. “[The museum] sees itself as a vital part of the South Sound’s cultural ecosystem providing a space for locals and visitors to explore art and creativity.”

Currently, TAM has several artists and exhibitions highlighted, many of which are focused on native American art. “The Naturalist and The Trickster: Audubon/RYAN!” is one that pairs the traditional nature illustrations of Audubon with a 75 foot long mural by native American artist Ryan! Feddersen. The two are put in juxtaposition to each other so that viewers can see the varied ways through the ages that artists have used nature to highlight important issues impacting wildlife.

RYAN! Feddersen

Feddersen’s wall length mural is an interactive piece that the artist is asking the community to add to by drawing on the piece using hand made crayons that are in the shape of coyote bones. TAM has specific nights when the exhibit is open for coloring on by the public.

“Forgotten Stories: Northwest Public Art of the 1930s” starts February 22 and runs through August 16. The show aims to shine light on the government investment put into the Northwest art scene in the 1930s. This support stimulated economic recovery and created hundreds of pieces of new art and artists whose stories haven’t been told.

There is also a glass exhibit showcasing artwork by Toots Zynsky, Dale Chihuly, and more.


Tacoma Art Museum exhibits and education programs


10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday

(Free nights 5 – 8 p.m. Thursdays)


1701 Pacific Ave, Tacoma


General admission $15 – $18

Free for military and their families, Tacoma Public Schools high school students and children under six;



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