Ollie Easter, artist and owner of Fattypacks.com

Pride at Mia: Ollie Easter on museums, inclusion, and the art of fanny packs

By Kate Brenner-Adam //

I began working at Mia in 2018, specifically because I felt its free admission made it an accessible museum, so that anyone who wants to visit can visit. Since then, I’ve realized that financial access is only one layer of accessibility, and what is represented inside also impacts the way visitors relate to the museum. 

Mia staff have formed a 2SLGBTQIA+ work group—of which I’m a member—to assert the importance of queer art and artists in the museum and to strengthen relationships with the queer community. And yet the museum remains a very straight and cisgender space. As Mia celebrates Pride this month with events like a dance workshop, an astrology poetry reading, and a transgender podcast launch, I wanted to better understand how queer and trans people navigate Mia and what they take away from their visits. So I talked to Ollie Easter (they/he), maker and owner of FattyPacks, about their art and what the museum means to them.

Kate Brenner-Adam: How do you define your art and your artistic practice?

Ollie Easter: I started sewing fanny packs about three years ago, as an experiment for fun, because I couldn’t find any that fit me that I liked. Then people just started asking me for them, and then all of a sudden I had a business. 

I’m not always sure that I want to be running a business, but it happened. My whole goal is to make size-inclusive and gender-neutral fanny packs, and they’re wearable pieces of art. My whole business model is to make it accessible and affordable for people in different ways, and I’ve been trying out different things like getting donations to be able to give packs out for free or doing a sliding scale. I’m just trying to make it so that I’m not burning myself out and am able to pay myself for my work while also getting them to people who want them, because finding size-inclusive fanny packs is a real issue these days! 

You have a background in fine art and you’ve collaborated with other artists to make the fabric for your packs. What draws you into creative partnerships?

Collaborating with other artists is the key to myself enjoying this, because I love working with people. I went to Memphis College of Art for a while and I studied painting and sculpture. I’ve done ceramics and other things, and I really like 3D art. Textiles have always been the most interesting to me. If I’m looking at color and texture, there’s only so much I can get from the fabric store that’s fun and cool and that I actually want to use. So I thought there’s probably a company that will print fabric that I can use, but I don’t really want to design it. I’ve been fortunate to work with other people who do graphic design and I’m able to pay them—it’s double promotion for myself and the other person. I always look for people whose work represents things I value, like fatness, queerness, racial diversity, and other marginalized identities that I want to bring to the forefront.

What is your history and relationship with Mia?

I grew up in the Cities, so I went to Mia when I was a kid. I also worked there in the gift shop from 2008 to 2010 or so. I was there a whole lot. I love that it’s free and accessible that way. Most recently I’ve gone a few times during the pandemic with my 4-year-old kid that I babysit and we’ve zoomed through scavenger hunts, which has been really fun but also overwhelming, because I want to check out the new exhibits and stuff but he was having fun doing the scavenger hunt. 

How do you navigate the space as a queer/trans/fat-positive person? 

Sky, 64, and Mike, 55, Palm Springs, CA, 2017, by Jess T. Dugan. Pigment print. Promised gift to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, L2019.158.4.

I definitely am most interested in the special exhibits and especially the contemporary exhibits. Most recently, I was really truck by the trans elders photo exhibit by Jess T. Dugan. Because seeing trans people who are older, and in all different kinds of bodies and races, is unfortunately rare. But it was also so hopeful and inspiring to see, especially older trans women of color and people who are often the target of violence. I hope that it can help society change in a way, so we can have more trans elders in the future.

Do you often see exhibits like that where you can connect with them, or do you more often experience art that you appreciate from a distance and not as an emotional connection?

I always feel pretty struck by the more abstract art and textiles. And I feel like there are ways that museums, including Mia, are trying to bring in more representation, which is great. But I think part of why I got out of the fine arts world was because I don’t have any real desire to be a part of the museum—I want to have functional, wearable, accessible art, and the whole institution sometimes feels inaccessible. It would be so great to see more fat and queer representation—more subjects and artists who fit those categories—and obviously less white in terms of the contemporary art. 

Do you find yourself drawn to the functional art at Mia?

I definitely look at all of the cool, old, functional pieces. The pottery and weapons are especially interesting to look at.

I think it’s really interesting to look at the museum through a fat-positive lens, because I would say a lot of art on view shows a pretty narrow range of what bodies look like.

Especially in the more classical art it’s like ‘Okay, this is what was valued and, wow, this is still what’s valued.’ These are the kinds of bodies that are put on display and art is made from, so it does feel like art museums sometimes help dictate standards of beauty. It would be nice to see more fat bodies for sure.

Ideally, what would a museum that really represents you look like?

I would love to see a gallery that looks like my Instagram feed, full of sexy, saucy fatties living their best lives, and just more from queer and trans people of color. It would be amazing if that was more centered. I would also love to see more artists who aren’t necessarily institutionally trained artists—self-made artists who are able to have some space in the galleries. Because it’s hard, it’s very elitist. Art school is so expensive and also very competitive and there are plenty of very talented people who have a lot to say who should have space in museum worlds.

Kate Brenner-Adam (she/her) is a Visitor Experience Representative at Mia. This interview was edited for length and clarity.