Vassallo, who will take up her new duties on Jan. 2, succeeds Susan Talbott, who announced her retirement several months ago. Talbott had been on the job since the beginning of 2016, when she stepped in following the sudden death of museum founder Marion “Kippy” Stroud in 2015.
Maja Paumgarten Parker, president of the Fabric Workshop’s board of trustees, characterized Vassallo’s appointment as marking a “new chapter” for the museum and artist workshop organization.
“She has lots of interesting ideas,” said Paumgarten Parker. “She has a different set of experiences. She’s a different generation.”
For her part, Vassallo said she was excited by the possibilities opening up in Philadelphia.
“I see museums as people’s universities,” she said, “with the artist placed in the role of decision maker and problem solver.”
That means, among other things, that she is interested in pursuing different ways the Fabric Workshop can “collaborate and partner with the artist.” She cited Sonya Clark’s recent Fabric Workshop exhibition, “Monumental Cloth, The Flag We Should Know,” with its variety of public programs, as exemplifying strong museum-artist collaboration. (The exhibition explored the meanings latent in the Confederate flag of truce, waved at Appomattox.)
For the past six years, Vassallo has headed up SPACES gallery in Cleveland, a nonprofit organization that commissions artist projects and runs an active slate of community and audience programs.
She launched and directed a $3 million capital campaign and spearheaded a drive to acquire and design a new home for SPACES. It relocated and opened in 2017.
She also expanded outreach initiatives, developed two grant programs for Cleveland-based artists, and curated a number of issue-oriented group exhibitions.
Vassallo said she has primarily sought to strengthen “nonprofits that are committed to placing contemporary art at the center of dialogue about the most significant issues of the day.”
Talbott, the current Fabric Workshop director, said the museum and workshop operations are in a relatively good spot. Revenues have hovered around $2.7 million for the last few years, attendance is up, and so is public attention.
She said that Vassallo “comes in with a very strong background” in community engagement, which “would be welcome” at the Fabric Workshop.
Paumgarten Parker said it is difficult to determine what kinds of changes — if any — will be implemented down the road.
“She will come in, ideas will be generated, and we’ll see where we go from there,” Paumgarten Parker said. “The organization is open to growing the programs we have and taking them possibly in a new direction.”