Monica O. Montgomery is an international speaker, museum director and cultural consultant, curating media and museums to be in service to society. She leads collectives like Museum Hue in building cultural equity and diverse representation through social justice and the arts. She is the founding director of Museum of Impact, the world’s first mobile social justice museum, inspiring action at the intersection of art, activism, self and society. She was the keynote speaker at the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Annual Meeting in fall 2016. Felicia Knise, AAGA Secretary, conducted the following interview.
Felicia Knise: For those who weren't able to hear you speak at the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance's meeting, can you explain what Museum Hue is? What inspired you to start it?
Monica O. Montgomery: Museum Hue, a group of millennial black and brown socially conscious museum and culture workers, came together to hold space for ourselves and our peers, unapologetically make our presence felt in museum spaces, and counter false narratives that we were ‘hard to find.’ Museum Hue advances the viability and visibility of people of color using arts, culture and museums, as a medium for discussion, creation, and solutions. We creatively engage all people around Culture, Community & Careers.
We recognize the absence of diversity and inclusion in cultural enclaves and we use our presence and voice to counter this reality, foster agency, and write new narratives for people of color in culture. We boldly declare on behalf of the disenfranchised people of color in museums everywhere, Museum Hue represents arts & culture professionals who are qualified and capable of holding high level positions within museums and will help create more embracing and inclusive spaces within these institutions, reaching as we climb.
We are currently forging alliances with cultural institutions to increase diversity in operations, governance and staffing. It is imperative for the future of the field, and the sake of your colleagues and aspiring/emerging museum professionals to have dedicated pipelines for POC to enter leadership opportunities and thriving wage employment within museums and creative careers.
We started Museum Hue after realizing we can’t wait for the sector to rediscover us, we can’t wait for Black History month for POC to be in vogue, we had to be self reliant and generate our own solutions, jobs and economy. We work hard to get jobs for the people in our network, and have created a private Facebook jobs group with a currently swelling roster of 800 people primarily of diverse backgrounds. Last year we placed 12 people in jobs, and hope to facilitate more employment connections this year. As a result of the goodwill we’ve generated and the strength of our brand, Museums and HR managers that are truly seeking diversity, look to us to find quality candidates and we are happy to give the gift of employment to those who may have normally been passed over.
To make a real impact we think beyond the here and now to who the next generation of arts professionals are going to be. We currently sponsor and underwrite a variety of programs where we go into elementary, high schools and colleges and talk to young people about the careers that are available to them and expose them to living artists who teach their craft. We are cross pollinating between arts administration and artistry and realizing kids need both to create a healthy arts ecosystem where a child is encouraged to see themselves working in the arts. It’s going out into communities, crossing socio-economic barriers with goodwill and intention, that’s what it will take to increase awareness and pipeline diverse people in as audience and future staff, at the root. Co-founders Stephanie Cunningham and I have a combined 15 years in the field and use our knowledge, contacts and network to tirelessly advocate for people of color inside or entering the field.
FK: How do you define "diversity"?
MOM: I'd like to start answering this question with a quote: "We have to think about diversity as a common denominator." Paula Gangopadhyay at Diversity & Federal Funding Panel during the Mid Atlantic Association of Museums Conference 2016
I define Diversity, Equity and Inclusion intersectionally, around this trifecta, how can we as a society and as individuals do more to acknowledge, amplify and advocate the voices of the unheard. How can we bring the fullness of ourselves, our audiences and our staff to the table. How can we seek perspectives outside of the center, welcoming people through honoring their intangible cultural heritage, language, identities, intergenerational backgrounds, food ways and lived experiences and all the other nooks and crannies that affirms our shared humanity.
Embracing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, means avoiding circumstances that perpetuate division and otherness. Finding time for deep listening, reflection and reevaluation of our opinions and operations. Finding through lines and thread lines to keep engaging outside of our comfort zone. We can't champion diversity, equity and inclusion at the surface, resigning ourselves to a never ending dance of death with thoughts like, "They are privileged and I am oppressed, and I'm helpless to change it." or "We are well funded and well intentioned, but not sure of the right words to say and don't want to step on any toes so we will opt for silence."
Both of those perspectives are lazy ways of thinking, entrenched behind walls of inaction, bureaucracy, fear and apathy, which breeds resentment and is a disservice to the dynamic nature of the creative sectors we work in.
FK: What advice do you have for people that are new to working in the arts and culture sector?
MOM: There is a lot of action and innovation happening online. Become a lifelong learner and look for areas to glean and grow online and offline beyond your current job title. Don’t default to the silos of your department, division or institution; think of yourself as part of the wide range of culture, heritage and humanities professionals operating interconnectedly throughout the country and the world. Keep your finger on the pulse of conversations and professional development happening through the unfiltered leadership of Twitter. Many museum leaders, workers, patrons and cultural enthusiasts are sharing their mind on Twitter, and I look to it for inspiration daily. Many archived tweetchats and individual tweets are ripe with golden nuggets, and you can find them by searching hashtags like #CultureFix #MuseumsRespondToFerguson #ITweetMuseums #MuseumWorkersSpeak #MuseEd #MuseBlack and of course #MuseumHue
Additionally realize that as an emerging arts professional you are on your leadership journey, you are learning growing, volunteering, brainstorming and hopefully being given increasing amounts of responsibility. You can be a leader before the title is bestowed on you. If you aren’t being given more responsibility, ask for it, or find ways to use your time and talent in pro bono volunteer spaces, to build your leadership capacity and your CV. In the immortal words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can."
Sometimes we have to do a full stop and reassess our SMART goals for our careers. As we build ourselves up, don’t forget to give back and help out peers, students, career changers and other aspiring professionals, comprising the existing and next generation of arts patrons, workers and leaders.
FK: When things with your work get tough or frustrating, how do you stay excited and motivated?
MOM: I take time away, take long walks by the water or in nature, and try to recenter myself by coming outside of my bubble and seeing the beauty of the world around me. Slow looking, deep listening, meditation and positive affirmations, keep me aware and energized for future projects, despite the demands.
FK: How do you balance your personal life and your professional life? How do you avoid "burn out"?
MOM: Still figuring this out. I tend to do more professional than personal. But on my frequent visits to the UK and business travel I try to build in a fun day, for lighthearted recreation.
FK: Do you practice an art or craft? Can you tell me about it?
MOM: Breaking rules and mental blocks of myself and others. Actively being subversive, sarcastic and snarky on social media and to some extent the real world.
FK: Is there anything else I should know?
MOM: I've worn a variety of hats, which I'm sure no one in the arts is stranger to; multitasking and doing a plethora of jobs like being a secretary, working in market research, telemarketing, working in a gas station, producing festivals, self publishing magazines, museum education, teaching grad school at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, and more. However before these golden moments and recent feathers in my cap, I was a bright eyed, idealistic, energetic student at Temple and LaSalle Universities. I spent a decade in Philly striving to make it a better place as a young professional, active citizen, entrepreneur and patron of the arts, and that time shaped me and gave me a grounding that has served me well today. This means I've gone through the many challenges that students today face, and overcome them and achieved more as a result of my education - be encouraged and keep the faith that you will too!
To keep in touch with Monica, visit her website and Twitter.