At this point in the semester, when I am teetering on the edge of sanity from the acute combination of physical, mental, emotional, and of course museum fatigue, Iris Morales’ visit was the energizing boost I needed to make it to the end. Teeming with the New York aplomb I desperately miss but will soon be surrounded by thanks to a summer internship in NYC, Iris took a refreshingly honest approach to introducing and presenting her documentary Palante! Siempre Palante! to our class and community members. I was struck by her candor on the collaborative nature of the work that often bears only her name, her skill for improvisation and relentless stick-to-itiveness, her willingness to change with the times, and the breadth of her creative endeavors. Iris certainly has more tricks up her sleeve than anyone I’ve met in a long time. She is currently working on a book. She made another short film while earning her MFA. She created and produces the interactive website us-puertoricans.org. As she said, she may not always have known how to do something, but that never stopped her from making an attempt and asking for assistance when she needed it.
One of her most exciting new projects is working on a play about Vito Marcantonio, a politician from East Harlem who served in the House of Representatives in the 1930s and 1940s. Iris spoke a bit about the play after showing us her documentary, and I had the pleasure of hearing more about it when I drove her to the train station. This summer, she is hosting an in-process theatrical reading of scenes from the play—a little “sneak peek,” if you will, at a work in progress. It may not be polished or complete, but she still believes that it has something to offer in its nascent state. She took a similar approach when making Palante! Siempre Palante!,holding open screenings at different points during its creation to receive feedback, but more importantly to generate excitement and demonstrate that those unfinished bits were just as invigorating and significant as the end product would eventually be.
Iris’ belief in the legitimacy of the parts that eventually make the whole and her resolve to rejoice in the process as much as the product is something that we as museum professionals must authenticate more readily. We’ve spent much of this semester exploring how to present complicated, challenging issues in our museums. Sometimes we’ve become disheartened by the seemingly small number of stellar examples of shared authority or other pioneering devices used in today’s museums. But searching for or trying to achieve the perfectly executed museum exhibit is not the point. Iris’ visit really reminded me that making the attempt to enact change and celebrating your efforts are the keys to true success. She also reminded us to revel in the process and not focus solely on the outcome.
Like Iris’ play, the museum field is currently a work in progress. We clearly haven’t figured everything out yet. But we must constantly remind ourselves of the beauty inherent in our willingness to create new approaches and innovations, even if they may not be fully formed or perfect. As I gear up to start my internship in New York, I’ll keep Iris’ lessons close to heart.