Thurston County Museum of Fine Arts at Olympia Armory Creative Campus

by R. Hambling

If you’ve been lucky enough to catch the fleeting but exuberant exhibitions, put up seemingly overnight at arts walk events, you may be wondering as I did, who is behind this gargantuan effort to bring local fine art to the public. Thurston County Museum of Fine Arts scored a space in the outbuilding at the newly acquired Armory Creative Campus, along with a grant from the City of Olympia to convert it into a museum space.

The grand opening is this Saturday, July 8, with performances by Leala, Ydhwm, Discount World, P.E.A.C.E. Benefit, & Big Tom and the Lithuanian. There will be food and treats sold by El Taco Amigo, & Sofie’s Scoops. It all makes for a fun and crowd-pleasing event.

Here is the events list for Saturday, July 8:

12 p.m. Ribbon cutting
2:30 p.m. Big Tom and the Lithuanian
1 p.m.  P.E.A.C.E. Benefit
2 p.m.  Leala
3 p.m.  Discount World
4:30 p.m. Ydhwm

Earlier Thurston County Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. Photo by David Hoekje.

The closing event will be held on Friday, July 14 from 7-9 p.m. when the museum will double as a dance floor with music by DJ Ocean, DJ JGAP, & Military Bass. 

TCMoFA found time to answer some questions:

Who are your ringleaders, instigators, catalysts, or founders? (Tell us a bit about yourselves).

The original organizers (inventors) of TCMoFA are Kirsten Miller, Isabel Yasui, and Freddy Dobler. We independently created the first museum for the 2022 Fall Arts Walk. Since then, we have been joined by Jasper Pease, David Hoekje, and Jolie Altshuler who have helped to organize the 2023 Spring Arts Walk Museum as well as the Armory Arts Intervention show.

The TCMoFA organizing members are united by a shared vision of creating art spaces and opportunities for local artists. Our team members are all artists who have been involved in the Olympia community for decades in varied roles. Each member has a unique skill set and expertise in planning, organizing, and running TCMoFA events. We also receive a ton of assistance from community volunteers — we couldn’t do it without them! 

Earlier Thurston County Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. Photo by David Hoekje.

What provoked starting such a grand endeavor?

We were interested in creating a free museum in Olympia in direct response to what we saw as a dearth of non-commercial visual art spaces. One of the things that makes our project unique is that we do not sell art or facilitate the sale of art, we create our museums purely for the examination and enjoyment of art. 

How do you wish to make a difference to the Olympia community, what do you offer?

Our mission is to increase the number of free and accessible art shows/art spaces in the Thurston County area. By doing so we hope to enrich the lived experiences of individuals in our community through the appreciation of art, as well as to provide new spaces and opportunities for local artists to show their work.

How do you manage the workload and costs?

Our organization was built from the ground up with many hours of unpaid volunteer labor. We started out using our own financial resources but have since begun to hold fundraising events, collect donations from the public, and apply for grants to cover museum costs. 

The first two museums were installed in then-vacant storefronts which we were granted use of by the owners of the buildings. Our current museum is being installed in the garage of the Armory Creative Campus, which we received use of through a grant from the city of Olympia. In each case we have poured hundreds of hours of labor into the transformation of the spaces, each event different from the previous. 

Our main “technique” for managing the workload has been our passion for the endeavor, and the passion shown by the artists and volunteers who have worked extraordinarily hard to put on these events.

Earlier Thurston County Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. Photo by David Hoekje.

We have been awarded grants from the Olympia Artspace Alliance and the City of Olympia. We have also had countless volunteers that have made everything possible.

What do envisage for the future?

We hope to have more permanence in the future. A long-term location for the museum. Fiscal stability that would allow us to pay artists, employees of the museum, and ourselves. 

TCMoFA Exhibition and live events

Noon to 6 p.m., July 8-15, opening festivities (noon to 6 p.m., July 8; Closing Gala: 7-10 p.m. July 14

Olympia Armory Creative Campus: 515 Eastside St SE, Olympia. WA 98501

Free for all ages, food and treats for sale


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