Monica O. Montgomery came to speak with us!
I have been following Monica’s work for quite some time. Her name was mentioned to me in a meeting that I had to discuss community involvement, opportunities for public speakers, the importance of archives, attempting to develop a cultural heritage archive for Red Hook, and on and on and on. When I first learned about her what first struck me was her incredible varied background. She only touched on this a bit in class, if only to tell us that she has done many things in her life and that we should never wait to feel validated to do what we want to be doing (a statement that instantly made me cry). I know from my internet stalking that she was working with kids when she decided to make the switch to working within museums and institutions (a background that never leaves us, as we experienced with her great “clap once if you can hear my voice” call back routine). As a former nanny and current social rights advocate I felt instantly connected to her without even knowing her.
Monica’s organization 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. Our community of practice is growing, learning, reflecting a changing culture with inter-sectional ideas around diversity, heritage, education, design, social awareness and beyond (Museum Hue, 2016).” Beyond educating museums about inclusivity within their institutions, Museum Hue also utilizes twitter to facilitate difficult conversations about race with institutions. By retweeting and beginning conversations in a museum-centric setting that cover movements like #blacklivesmatter, calling out police brutality, and other forms of injustice Museum Hue is calling for action to the things that people of color are wanting to talk about, and demanding that museums and institutions make space for these discussions to happen.
This idea reminded me of Zeynep Tufecki’s Ted Talk on the role of social media in social justice situations and the ways that it had been used to demand acknowledgment and change in Turkey. When Turkish jets bombed and killed thirty-four smugglers in the the Kurdish region, journalists sat and waited for the government to tell them what to do, or how to proceed. When one journalist decided to stop twiddling his thumbs, he flew to the region and was faced with an intense image of grieving families and a sea of caskets. The image that he took was posted to Twitter and instantly went viral, forcing Turkish media outlets to cover the story and acknowledge what had happened. A year later when the uprising in Giza happened, again Twitter played an integral part in calling out Turkey’s news media’s lack of coverage and stifling of the movement. At one point Global CNN coverage was on the ground in Giza live during the protests while Turkish CNN was playing a film about penguins. It isn’t so easy to refuse to acknowledge or ignore a movement when they are asking you “Hey, why aren’t you talking about this?”
Museums are places for the people. If they aren’t acknowledging the issues that are relevant to their communities, then at some point they will cease to be relevant themselves.
At the end of class I asked Monica about the application of her work to create more inclusive spaces within institutions that are gentrifying urban areas and whether those institutions acknowledge their place in the game or whether they deny it. She mentioned something about not wanting to out any institution by name, which I completely understood at the time, but looking back on it I wish that I had better explained that I don’t think institutions should necessarily feel ashamed to acknowledge that they are active in gentrifying a space. Especially if they are working towards remedying their exclusions. I feel like the subject of gentrification is one that is so important to acknowledge. If an institution is doing the work to accept or acknowledge that they are participating in the gentrification of an area, and they want to strive to do better by the community then that should be a source of encouragement. By asking for help institutions are saying that they want to better serve their communities and that is progress! I am a firm believer in the twelve step program’s idea that the first step towards recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem. I am so glad that Monica is doing this work within museums to help them acknowledge their problems and work through them to become better institutions.
I look forward to seeing more of what Monica comes up with, continuing to talk with her about social justice, and watching institutions shift and change as her methods of inclusion are more fully adopted, accepted, and appreciated.