Meet Victoria Munro- Executive Director at Alice Austen House Museum in New York, which is dedicated to the photographic expressions of Alice Austen.
Victoria Munro grew up in New Zealand and moved to New York at the age of 21 to pursue art-making. After completing her BFA, she finished her graduate studies in Arts and Art History Education. To date, she has continued to develop her educational work alongside her art curation and making, to raise awareness of marginalized artists and LGBTQ+ communities.
At present, she plays the role of being the Executive Director of the Alice Austen House Museum and also consults and speaks publicly on LGBTQ+ curriculum development, historical and current LGBTQ+ interpretations in public and private institutions.
The Alice Austen House fosters creative expression, explores personal identity, and educates and inspires the public through the interpretation of the photographs, life, and historic home of pioneering American women photographer, Alice Austen. It is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to the work of a single female photographer.
Victoria has always had the vision to create a program of intergenerational photographic storytelling for LGBTQ+ youth and seniors- this vision of hers has enriched her understanding of the power of storytelling through the arts to heal and empower. She explains that the Museum’s central understanding of Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate’s romantic relationship fills a distance between the institutional narrative of Austen’s life and the fact that the LGBTQ+ community has long learned about her life. Also, in some ways, the Austen House is at the forefront of LGBTQ interpretation at historic sites.
Throughout her journey, she has encountered numerous difficulties, from arranging funds to keep the work flowing to running successful programs. Apart from this, managing professional life while being a mother has always been difficult for her.
While she has managed to overcome the struggles of her past, her current challenges are centred around the homophobia that exists today and resistance to accepting multiple histories and voices in the community that she works in. This makes the work essential to educating and creating acceptance for LGBTQ+ communities. According to her, lesbian histories are traditionally underrepresented and there is a lot of work and research that needs to be done, to begin adequately sharing these important narratives. Also, board development and diversity is an urgent issue for the institution to sustain relevance and increase its financial security.
There are a variety of untold stories in the LGBTQ community which need to be told. She strives to provide a model for other institutions that may want to undertake a similar reinterpretation and have lectured across America and Europe to provide professional development in LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum and inclusion of marginalized histories. She reinterpreted all the interior spaces of Alice Austen House (AAH) in 2019 and used that opportunity to enhance the museum’s international partners by publishing several articles and representing the museum in international paper presentations. She also presented at the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art in London and the 2019 ALMS Queering Memory conference in Berlin.
She has also created platforms in education, digital content, and photographic exhibitions which provide safe and inclusive environments for contemporary LGBTQ+ artistic storytelling and identifying ways to enhance our social and historical responsibilities to the LGBTQ+ community. In 2018, an intergenerational LGBTQ+ photographic storytelling program was launched where she rewrote all AAH arts education programs with an equity lens and began the process of renovating all the public spaces in the museum. In 2019, she reopened the museum with a permanent exhibition centring on the truthful interpretation of Austen’s life and lesbian relationships. Recently, she produced a landmark exhibition timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the stonewall uprising featuring portraits of 15 intergenerational LGBTQ+ activists from across America. This exhibition was the first in the museum’s history to commission a lesbian photographer, Collier Shorr.
The LGBTQ community needs more people like her and with many more milestones and achievements, Victoria continues her journey with a stronger determination each day and she says
“ I continue to connect the story of Alice Austen and her home to the current day, developing innovative programmatic approaches. The AAH is located in a waterfront park on the North Shore of Staten Island and I am leading a task force of non-traditional scholars to explore new ways to program and interpret the exterior site and explore the intersections between art and ecology and address the needs of the surrounding community. Additionally, I will form an advisory committee of young LGBTQ+ artists to both foster their careers and to provide meaningful guidance in the development of new arts programming for AAH.”