Interview: Martha Monroe Focuses the Future of Milwaukee's Sister Museums

May. 2, 2009
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Two museums to curate exhibits for instead of one⎯a daunting job for the new Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Charles Allis Art Museum and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Martha Monroe. As she begins to study the history these sister landmarks hold in the city of Milwaukee, Monroe relishes the task of reviewing their architectural and artistic legacy to incorporate new interpretations for future programming.  Since acquiring this position in January 2009, Monroe explains whats ahead for the pair of Milwaukee treasures.

Q: Since January 2009 when you came to the museums, were these upcoming exhibitions already in place?
A: Yes, and I found that in the shows I inherited theres a lot of diversity to what each museum exhibits. Its difficult to curate some of the shows that Ive had so little input into creating. But Ive had a lot of fun putting this Enchanted Doll exhibit and Threaded Metaphors together.

Q:  Will the CAM and VT continue to focus on art exhibitions?

There were an inordinate amount of shows coming every year⎯thirteen for both museums. As of right now were only going to be doing three shows per museum. If we had two curators between the museums, we would hope to have more exhibits, but there was less focus on the programming with all the shows. But were hoping to have longer exhibitions that emphasize the programming.  And one of my other goals is to focus the Villa Terrace into a decorative arts museum.

Q: So each exhibit at Villa Terrace would focus on the world of decorative arts?

Thats a goal.  Weve been discussing a group show with the Wisconsin Designer Crafts Council. Theyre really looking to reestablish their presence in Wisconsin and I think that this alliance might be good for the Villa Terrace Museumand were hoping to do more programming that emphasizes this museum.

Q: What would this involve?

A:  Wed like to emphasize the museums with a historical lecture series. I would like to see it [Villa Terrace] really make a difference in the decorative arts. But this is to make it more specific, make both [the museums} more relevant.

Q:  So a historical lecture series would focus on these exhibits?

A:  In certain respects, Id like to see a balance between [showing] the permanent collections and new exhibitions. The museums have a responsibility to do scholarship on the permanent collections, so there would be a more holistic approach to the programming.

Q: Is this the direction you see the future of the CAM and VT heading in?

A: It will be about offering what the museums can do best, and what they can really offer to the community. There are people in Milwaukee who have never heard about the museums, and we would like to change that. We hope to give these museums a sharp, quality focus, showing what we have to offer.

Q: How do you propose to carry this out?
A: Its an experiment right now, where the museums are going, so were slowing down the programming. That will offer us a chance to do this. Both museums have a tremendous amount to offer, and this gives us a chance to explore this. And it would be a shame that they could not be more visible. Im so excited about the future of these two museums. Theres a lot of work, and a lot of changes ahead, a lot of challenges. We need to find what we do best, and then do that, show both museums strengths.
        Enchanted Doll continues until June 7 at Villa Terrace and Threaded Metaphor opens
                          May 13 through July 26 at the Charles Allis Art Museum


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