Ignite talk - Monica Montgomery

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Video: “Breaking Boundaries: Professional, Personal and Political Power in Museum Practice” by Monica Montgomery (Museum Hue), an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA. Published on Jun 27, 2016

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Monica Montgomery, Museum Hue


Hi friends, how’s everybody feeling? Let’s get the energy going.

So I’m Monica Montgomery, and I am a rule breaker. Thank you. Always, good to be seen.

So I'm breaking boundaries in museum practice. I have a number of social media accounts please follow them all you won't be disappointed.

So I'm an ENFP for Myers Briggs fans. Champion idealist, high-energy. I'm breaking boundaries and doing things differently all the time in exhibits, in events, in education, experiences. I've done a lot, and I started a lot, because I’ve seen a lot of voids in the world.

This is some of my rule breaker crew. I organized with Museum Workers Speak--much love to them examining labor equity parity.

Museum Hue is the collective I founded, advancing people of color in arts, culture, and museums, and I usually try to find community in my rule-breaking. I've been rule breaking since 1981. In college I didn't declare a major till the last possible day. High School I was kicked out for challenging the nuns on the religious canon.

It's always something with me, but breaking rules it gets my creativity flowing. I currently run a historic house, the Lewis Latimer house. I am a museum anarchist, and that means that we're doing things differently.

I let people touch stuff. I gave the keys to a band of artists to create a site-specific installation. We're doing all kinds of things differently, and breaking rules, but my story really starts back when I was a pre-k teacher here in D.C., and I was teaching a group of students, and we were having a good old time.

And teaching kids that age it will definitely test your patience, but it taught me how to connect with people on an emotional level, and how to make subjects engaging and fun to capture. Long story short, working with these kids is when the whole Trayvon Martin situation exploded, and I had to be able to help them process what was happening. Kids have short attention spans as you can see here. You’ve got about 10 good seconds, and after that it's a wrap, they're not listening.

But I really wanted to work with them to talk about why black lives mattered and what they can do in their own way. So we made Mother’s Day cards for Trayvon Martin's mom, and we talked about the issues. This was something that I felt it was calling. It was really important for me to work with these kids, cause they were questioning and nobody wanted to tackle it, but I couldn't look away. And I wanted to walk in the truth and the power of that.

Long story short I believe that your silence makes you complicit, and that the world is watching, and so we have to take a stand on these social issues especially issues like Black Lives Matter.

I was featured on Humans of New York. I got fired from the preschool. They didn't like what I was doing. They didn’t like what I was teaching the kids, so I ran into Brandon Stanton one day, and I told him my story, got 650 comments.

This was a few years ago, and it really catalyzed this conversation. I decided after teaching that I wanted to get into museums. And I really just started by learning, going to conferences, volunteering, talking with all sorts of leaders and just grounding myself in the world, cause I wanted to start my own mobile social justice museum to tackle these issues, these Black Lives Matter issues.

So my vision for the Museum of Impact, which is what I started: Not to wait for permission. To be the change. To fuel the future with arts and culture.

My vision for the Museum of Impact is all about hearing, and caring, and acting, and inspiring people to envision their role in championing change, and we did a good deal of that. We launched back in September in Harlem, and we also were just really interested in who represents whom and how to hold space for audiences that wanted to express, to grieve, to grow, to cry, and that was important for me, to hold that space for folks, because again I couldn't wait for institutions to tackle this topic.

Also with the Museum of Impact, we wanted to partner with local groups and find these lines of specificity around the issue, so we partnered with storytelling groups, other organizers, charitable organizations, as we pursued these topics.

Well my vision was realized, and the exhibit, the movement is rising. The journey of Black Lives Matter brought out four hundred community members over the span of five days, and I'm really proud of that.

We held space for children to play, and we were shining a light on these tragedies with an eye toward change, transforming the nation to celebrate Black Lives Matter, and the wellspring of artivism that arose out of these tragic incidents.

I also was really passionate about breaking these boundaries of access. Who can access a museum. Who should come. How people should act. We welcomed everyone. We wanted anyone who wanted to be there, to be there, and get that experience, and we're still doing that work today, popping up in community centers and schools and beyond.

So breaking boundaries has helped deepen my museum practice, and you can too. I'm happy to report that we will be popping up in the Brooklyn Museum, and we have some other museums lined up for 2016.

So I would encourage everyone to break a few rules now and then. It’s not gonna hurt you.

Thank you.