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Museums' Role In Art Education With Monica Garza

Established in 1936 as a sister organization to the MoMA in New York, the ICA, or Institute of Contemporary Art, in Boston opened the way for other "modern art" institutions, artists' spaces, and alternative places. Conceived as a testing ground for fresh artistic perspectives, it has presented contemporary art across all mediums, including visual arts, performance, cinema, video, and literature. It has also developed educational initiatives that promote an awareness of modern culture for the past 85 years.

Today, Monica Garza, the Charlotte Wagner Director of Education at Boston’s ICA, tackles art education and describes the scope of her role and the outreach efforts and programs they are offering for teens and younger children. Monica also shares how they’re getting beyond the four walls of the museum and creating an impact by being a presence in the community. Tune in and learn how the ICA is acquiring a broader audience and giving people a deeper appreciation for art.

Check out the full series of "Career Sessions, Career Lessons" podcasts here or visit A full written transcript of this episode is also available at


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Museums' Role In Art Education With Monica Garza

Charlotte Wagner Director Of Education At Boston's Institute Of Contemporary Art

In this episode, my guest is Monica Garza who is the Charlotte Wagner Director of Education at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In this capacity, Monica is responsible for a broad range of educational programs aimed at museum visitors and the local community, spanning children, teens and adults. Monica has been with the ICA for years.

Prior to her work there, she had roles with the Museum of Fine Arts, the Lawndale Art Center in Houston and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. Monica earned her Bachelor's degree in Art History from the University of Houston and her Master's in Art History from the University of New Mexico. She and her family live in the Boston area.


Monica, welcome. Thanks for doing the show with me.

Thank you for having me.

I appreciate it. I am always amazed by the great work that goes on at the ICA. This is an opportunity for us to talk a little bit more deeply about it and also about your career journey and share with the audience some of the things that you've learned along the way in your work in the different museums that you've been in over the years. Let's start with what you're doing. Describe the scope of your role as the ICA's Charlotte Wagner Director of Education.

I oversee a team of about 40-plus employees here at the ICA. This team develops different types of learning initiatives for youth, families, teens, adults and anyone you can think of. We also develop and maintain relationships with artists, community partners and audiences as well. These partnerships can range from working with community gardens in East Boston to health centers as well in the neighborhood.

I first got involved with the ICA back in 2014 or so. The teen program was one of my earliest points of exposure to the museum. Let's go into that first. It's a phenomenal program. Can you give us an overview of the things that you do for teens during the course of the year?

Our teen programs here at the museum have evolved over the years. The ICA offered programs for teens long before I even arrived here but in the last few years, we have been able to expand them a great deal. In general, the reason that we focus on teenagers at a contemporary art museum is that it's a natural fit for the type of work that we show here in the museum.

There are a lot of artists that bring artwork into our galleries that deal with environmental issues, technology, issues of identity and anything you can think of. Those are a lot of the types of issues and themes that a lot of adolescents are thinking about as well and trying to make sense of them. It's a natural fit for us in terms of our audiences.

At the moment, we offer three different levels of engagement. I like to think of them as three different buckets of programs here at the ICA. The first one might be coming with a school group for the first time. It's low-barrier. The teacher might be bringing you in for the first time or you might be coming for a teen night, which are big events where teens are creating those activities for other teens.

It's a very low-commitment type of program. We move up that scale to the more intensive programs that we have, which can be year-round or multi-year programs. That includes our Fast Forward program, which is our film production class or also our Teen Arts Council and so forth. There are different ways for teenagers to get engaged with the museum.

Talk a little bit more about the Teen Arts Council. To me, that's another piece that's unique about what you're doing for teens. It's a multi-year thing. They're very involved in programming as you alluded to.

Our outreach efforts here at the museum are trying to recruit Boston teens as much as we can. We get a cross-section of teens from the city and beyond as well. The Teen Arts Council is made up of about twelve teens. They work with us. These are stipend positions here at the ICA. These teens meet on a weekly basis to immerse themselves in some of the art-making or the artists that are in town and so forth to learn more about it but also to develop resources or interview artists, record that and create different types of experiences for their peers.

Those are the types of programs where we have long-lasting relationships with a lot of those participants because they might be here for their full high school experience or whole tenure. Often we run into some of the alumni in our galleries or at some of our events. We're always very grateful to see that. We're appreciative.

You were covering what happens to the Teen Arts Council members in a meeting that we were in together. What did you learn about how these teens have taken art with them into their adult lives?

For some of the teens or alumni, what we learned is that those that are going to college feel better prepared by participating in one of our programs here at the museum. We made sure that they were aware of the deadlines that we had, the responsibilities that we gave young people and also the support that was there. Knowing all of that and having that type of experience before going to college was very useful for them. That was something that came out. For other alumni who want to be artists, what we learned is that they are also seeking the business side of art and being an artist. That is something that we're taking into account in terms of our future planning to figure out how to move forward.

These kids that come from diverse backgrounds have always amazed me. It's incredible how this is a life-changing period for them because they come into this. I've heard comments from the teens talking about, "Finally, there's a place that I belong and that there are other people like me." There's that sense of community that they get, whether they're on the Teen Arts Council or even coming to the teen nights. It's a great thing. You do so many things to both expose kids to art who probably wouldn't otherwise have gotten that exposure and also give them something that they take with them in terms of their identities.

The other thing worth pointing out here is the population of Boston, especially in our school district here in the city. Predominantly, we're an immigrant city. Some people are moving into the city from all over the world and creating these safe spaces for people to gather and get to know each other while making art. It's a huge plus for people.

You do a bunch of things for younger kids as well. Do you want to talk a little bit about what that encompasses?

We do offer different types of activities for younger children. Our focus for those types of activities has been on art making as a family unit, children working with their guardian or whomever the adult in their life may be. We see the many benefits of concentrating on a family unit. For instance, we see this intergenerational cooperation and communications.

For adults to be able to see young children dive into art materials and create new worlds and new narratives is fantastic because unfortunately, that is something that we see where adults are hesitating to jump in with the materials if they're not comfortable with being an artist but children have no barriers. They will dive in. That's wonderful. There's a benefit from all sides.

CSCL 55 | Art Education

Art Education: Adults are hesitating to jump in with the materials, and they're not comfortable with being an artist, but children have no barriers. They’ll just dive in, which is wonderful.


It's funny that you bring up the discomfort that adults have with this. I experienced this. We had a painting event as part of celebrating Holi, the Indian Festival. We were all supposed to paint something that made us happy on a little canvas that was probably about 4x6 inches. I was super intimidated about doing them but I finally got roped into it because I'm the least artistic person in my entire family. I was a little bit worried about how it would come out but at the end of the day, it was fun. It was quick. I have it sitting on my desk. I look at it every day thinking, "I could have done that better." I want to paint another one and try and improve on version one.

That's fantastic. Hopefully, the canvas will keep getting larger too.

Maybe it will. Across all of the youth programs that you do, how much do you get outside the museum and into the schools and other places in the community with the education programs that you run?

We have a pretty strong belief here in our department that we work beyond the traditional museum borders, meaning that we work beyond the brick-and-mortar site of the building. We are onsite, online and offsite at many different types of venues. We do go to schools and farmer's markets. Sometimes we even go to health centers as well. We try to be as flexible as we can. We're trying to make sure that we continue to be responsive. We are responding to community needs. That might mean for us to continue to be flexible as we move forward with our work.

You mentioned adapting to what the community needs. A great example of that is what you were doing during the pandemic where you were distributing art kits. Share a little bit about how that program came into being, what it involved and the impact that it had when kids couldn't go to school and get access to an art teacher. Therefore, whatever they were going to do, they would have to do at home.

What happened when the pandemic hit here in Boston is that we were having communications with some of our community partners in one of the neighborhoods here in Boston. These are people whom we have been developing relationships with over the years. It was interesting because, during these personal communications that we were exchanging, it became very clear that there was a common thread that every community group leader was saying in this neighborhood. They were all expressing the lack of resources, specifically access to food as well in the neighborhood. Kids were not going to school. There was a lot of isolation. Kids were scared.

Everybody was scared during that time. These were dark times. What we decided to do is that we pulled together these community organizations and also partnered with the museum catering company that we work with here. They closed shop too. Together, we created a food and art kit distribution system. We were distributing at least 400 boxes of fresh food and dairy to families through these community organizations. Each of these boxes included an art kit. The art kits came out of the education department.

What we were doing is that we reached out to a social worker that we had historically been working with and asked for advice about how best to design these art kits for kids we knew were feeling scared and isolated and needed some outlet. She gave some great advice. Some of the advice that she shared with us is to make sure that the art kits bring some sense of hope to families and their homes but also to remind young people of their sense of agency. That's the beauty of art. We can provide them with some art materials and they do have the agency to create something on their own however they want.

The art activities themselves did have a lesson that was co-designed with a contemporary artist. Contemporary artists went above and beyond working with us on these activities, which we're very happy about. We also included any art materials that a child might need or a family might need to create this activity. The activities ranged from sidewalk chalk activities to drumming. We included these professional drumsticks from a percussionist that lives here in the Boston area. Kids were encouraged to make their drum set using all of the packing materials from the food boxes, for example.

I'm sure their parents love that.

The whole neighborhood loved me. We were determined to remind children and their families about the amazing creativity that they can bring even in these dark times. That was a project that we worked on for quite a long time.

What did you hear back from the people in these communities in terms of the art kits, the food and the impact that you had?

We heard directly from the community organizations that we worked with because they were helping deliver some of the boxes of food to people's homes. On occasion, an entire family might have had COVID all at the same time. Community organizations were leaving these boxes and art kits directly in front of their homes so that they can access that. They said that it brought a lot of light to the home. Kids loved it. It's influenced the way we think about how we deliver our work.

How so?

It's going back to the idea of going beyond the brick and mortar of a museum and also the idea of being able to access young people exactly where they're at. They might feel safest in their home rather than exploring new neighborhoods where the museum might be or anything of that sort. It's opened up a door for us.

The pandemic was hard for everybody but it must have been a difficult period for you and the museum. You were closed for the better part of two years without the ability to generate revenue from ticket sales, merchandise sales and things like that. How did the museum manage through that time?

It was a difficult time that everyone else had to deal with as well but we had to pivot rather quickly. Aside from trying to learn how to use Zoom for the first time and all these other new platforms, we focused a great deal on the purpose of our work. These art kits were a great example to bring our team together to create them together. Part of the education department includes everyone that's in the galleries like our gallery staff. They could not work so they did pivot and helped create some of these art kits from home as well. We were able to expand even our distribution during school vacation weeks when it's in the middle of winter here in Boston, which is dreadful enough. That helped kids during that time too.

Financially, the museum took out a PPP loan as a lot of small businesses did and used that as a way of bridging that gap and continuing to be able to pay staff during that period. It was a dark period.

It was a dark period but the ICA is a very unique museum from a lot of other organizations that I've worked at. It was very important for this organization to make sure that people continue to work and stay employed. That was something that we were all focused on.

In general, I've always had the view that the museum punches above its weight class. It's not the biggest museum in Boston, let alone other cities and probably not the best-known museum in Boston, yet at the same time, you play on the national stage. We will get to some of that in the course of the conversation. It's not a big building. It didn't have a permanent collection until not that long ago. It's always amazed me how much the ICA has been able to accomplish with the resources that it does have. I've heard the museum director, Jill Medvedow, talk about as well getting beyond the four walls and being a presence in the community. You embody that. It's impressed me over the years that I've known the ICA.

It also takes people like you who are involved with the ICA for us to think about our work in this way too.

Is the museum back to the pre-COVID level of activity at this point in terms of visitors, exhibitions, events and all of that?

It sure feels like it. It's the end of March 2023. We have school groups pretty much booked every day until the end of the school year of 2023. We are already thinking of the summer season. It's going to be a busy one. We have already hit that mark.

Coming back to some of the educational programs, you've also done things for art educators, including a national event that you've run in certain years. Can you give us a sense of what that's about?

Over the years, we have hosted Teen Convenings. They're opportunities to bring a small number of arts educators who work with teenagers but we also invite teenagers that are part of those programs to come to the ICA in Boston. We have done it for a few years. These are intergenerational conversations to understand how the arts and museums play a role in the lives of young people.

I should point out that these conversations are teen-led. A lot of these conversations and the themes are based on what the teenagers are thinking about at the moment. It has been very rewarding. Since the pandemic, we haven't quite done it. We did it with the cartoon program alumni to see where they were at but it's a useful way for us to continue to understand our work and where they're at too.

What do you hear from educators around the country about the state of art education in the United States?

We're still in this position where everyone is still trying to figure it out at the end of the pandemic. What stays? What will continue? During the pandemic, many education departments were shut down around the country. Internationally, I could say that too. It's this moment when a lot of museums are trying to rebuild but at the same time, there are a lot of arts educators that are trying to figure out what their next step is going to be, whether to stay in museums or move on and so forth.

It's this interesting time for our field. I am seeing that a lot of former education directors and museums are moving on to very different types of positions too where they might be signing up to work at children's museums or working as directors of art museums around the United States. It's an interesting time for our field, for sure.

You do programs for adults too. What does the mix of that look like?

We do offer programs for adults. It ranges from gallery conversations, discussions and tours to artists' talks as well but we also try to include some experiential learning for adults at the ICA. That's one of the things I'm working on at the moment for the summer of 2023. We have an artist who is very much focused on wellness and well-being. We will have hands-on activities where hopefully people will feel a little lighter after they participate.

When that William Forsythe exhibit was there, it had all sorts of physical activities that you would do. People aren't used to being able to touch art in a museum but this was very much a participatory experience that exhibit brought. It was a popular exhibit as I remember.

It was very popular. Anything experiential, whether it's an exhibit or an art activity of some sort, all ages participate in one way or another. They love that active learning.

It was funny when I brought some friends to it after I had been through it. They were a little bit skeptical about whether a night at the ICA was going to be a fun evening for us but afterward, they said, "That was fun." It was an adult playground that you got to experience inside the museum.

That is true. We had quite a few characters come to the ICA for that exhibit. A lot of people got excited about it.

I'm sure you did. You mentioned that the gallery staff all report to you. What are the roles of your gallery staff and the various things that you are looking for them to do?

We have several teams that work in the galleries here at the museum. We have a team of contract gallery educators, a lot of people that have a background in the education field or the arts field who are facilitating conversations with groups in K-12, college, university and adults. We do have that group as well. The other group that we have are the visitor assistants, which is a team of about 30 people. They have diverse backgrounds from the humanities to fine art and anything you can think of. We have a lawyer up there and a law student. We have a little bit of everything up there.

They learn about the exhibitions and the art on view and are helping to bridge that gap between the visitor who might be here for the first time and the work of art. They're here to break down those barriers if there are any perceived or real barriers to engaging with the work of art. Not only are they the eyes and ears in the galleries in terms of making sure everything is okay but they are trained to facilitate conversations as well.

CSCL 55 | Art Education

Art Education: Our team of gallery educators are not only the eyes and ears in the galleries in terms of making sure everything is okay, but they are trained to facilitate conversations as well.


Ultimately, museums are popular but they can also be intimidating, particularly for people who haven't grown up going to museums and had that exposure. What do you do besides the way that you train your gallery staff? What are the other things that the museum does to make itself more accepting of a broad audience, including people who have that limited art knowledge?

On a personal level, I never visited an art museum until I was in college. I did not grow up with art museums whatsoever. There are quite a few of us that have that background and experience. It's a nice balance within our team of different types of backgrounds. We try our best to think about our work a little bit differently. We seek out different types of partnerships and work with different types of individuals on some of our offerings. That's one thing that's good about this museum also. It's engaged with what is happening in the city of Boston. It's common for us to work with different departments in the government in the city of Boston as well. We try to get our work out there to make sure that we are serving our community as best as we can.

CSCL 55 | Art Education

Art Education: We think about our work a little bit differently. One thing that's very good about this museum is that it's very engaged with what's happening in the city of Boston.


You do free days that are purposefully designed to bring in people who might not have the economic means or get to come in for free as an enticement to come to the museum for other reasons. I can remember you also seeing statistics that I have seen you and others show over the years about new people that you're bringing into the museum that hadn't been to the ICA before or maybe hadn't been to an art museum before. Ultimately, all of that contributes to giving people or a broader audience an art appreciation.

When we evaluated some of our programs in the past, that was one thing our evaluator would always indicate to us. For instance, a teenager might come to the ICA for the first time and find their way on public transportation. Getting here and seeing what's available is the hook. After that, they're hooked. We started a bus transportation fund for teachers as well locally. Anything that we can do to make sure that they have easy access to what we have to offer is what we're thinking about.

You went well beyond your four walls since the ICA was selected to commission an artist for the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It's an amazing opportunity to make the ICA more visible on a global stage. You picked Simone Leigh as the artist. You ran a whole bunch of events around her exhibition in Venice. What did you do in terms of educational programming?

As part of that proposal from the museum, there were a few educational components attached to that. The one I spent the most time with was working with our team on an international teacher program. It was a four-day event. We partnered with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice where they have an extraordinary program for teachers. We worked together for a bilingual workshop.

We were able to bring our model for in-school learning and how we introduce contemporary art into classrooms to Venice. We were able to work with 24 teachers in Venice and also bring in 2 artists from the United States to work with the teachers. The Guggenheim in Venice also brought in an Italian teacher. It was a complete international experience working together on this extraordinary program. The teachers got a chance to see Simone's work, study it, visit the Biennale and look at other exhibits. It was a rewarding and glorious time.

I didn't make it down to Venice unfortunately but I wish I had been able to go. It sounded like an amazing opportunity for the museum to be part of that celebration that they do regularly there.

We're very excited that a lot of those works will be traveling in the United States. We will be able to reuse some of the work that we did in 2022 in Venice and revisit them in 2023.

You had not been to an art museum before you went to college. How did you get interested in art?

I grew up always drawing as a child. I was one of those kids that would get the Sunday paper and redraw all of the little comic strips every Sunday. I always liked drawing. I always enjoyed it a great deal. I was a maker then. It was when I was in college that I went to an art museum and saw this exhibition that was something like the 400 Years of Mexican Art. I had never seen anything like that before. We're talking about works from hundreds of years ago. That blew my mind. The idea that this was something that I could think about, study and also retell these narratives was exciting for me.

What did you go to college thinking that you were going to major in originally?

I had no idea. The other subject that I liked was biology. I was like, "A hand doctor, a foot doctor or anything." I had no idea what I was going to do.

Did you gravitate more toward contemporary art specifically? Was your interest more general?

It was pretty general at the start. I was interested in Latin American art but it was very general. It wasn't until I was a graduate student that my thinking expanded. It went in a different direction.

How so?

I went to graduate school at the University of New Mexico. Besides wonderful landscapes and a beautiful place to live for a few years, they have a very strong photography program. A lot of well-known photographers and photo historians have worked or studied there at UNM in Albuquerque. That exposed me to the history of photography. The professor that I had there at the time became my mentor. He still is my mentor. He also was very interested not only in fine art type of photography but also in vernacular photography like the everyday photo processes and the different histories that are involved with that. That opened up my eyes. I could take this in a very different direction.

You went to work for the Lawndale Center. Is that your first full-time job?

Right before that, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston for a very short period. I was a curatorial assistant because, at that time, I thought, "Maybe I could be a curator. I could do research or something of that sort." I was there for a short period before moving on to the Lawndale Art Center.

What did you do when you were at the Lawndale Art Center?

The Lawndale Art Center is an artist-run organization. It's small. It was a good opportunity for me to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes of putting an exhibition together from beginning to end. I was there to help artists and support them and also support an artist advisory board from the city of Houston. In terms of helping the artists, it meant helping with their press releases or helping them paint their walls or build their walls. It's a little bit of everything. One of the things that I noticed while I was there is that no one was doing public programming around any of the exhibitions. That's when I started dabbling with that.

CSCL 55 | Art Education

Art Education: The Lawndale Art Center is an artist-run organization. It’s a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes work of putting an exhibition together from beginning to end.


How did you then end up going out to San Diego? That was your next stop. There's contemporary art there.

I was thinking a great deal about where I wanted to take my career. I wanted to be back in an art museum of some sort. I thought that the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego was a good opportunity because it was a mid-sized organization with great waves on the West Coast and a lot of sunshine but the other thing that attracted me to the San Diego area was that it was a border town. They had a lot of people that they worked with and artists that lived both in Tijuana and also in the San Diego area. Originally, I'm from a border town in Texas. That made sense for me to go there and experiment with that.

What do you remember being your biggest life or work learnings in your early days working at the Lawndale Art Center and then working out in San Diego?

I started learning a lot about the different stakeholders. In terms of the Lawndale Art Center, I was working directly with artists and understanding their needs, wants and desires for an exhibition and their careers as artists but then San Diego, this bi-national space, gave me a different view of what different audiences want from an art museum and how they want to engage with the art. There were a lot of learnings from that.

You went back to Houston to the Museum of Fine Arts. What prompted that shift for you?

They recruited me. They sought me out. I went back to a very different role, this time in the education department. I was the Associate Director of Education, which was a new position at the time. I was working with adult programs, family programs and other types of community outreach while I was there. It was an interesting experience because of my background in contemporary art specifically. I realized that even internally and this is a large organization, a lot of the curators were seeking me out, specifically in that department, because of that experience and knowledge. It was a little bit different.

I'm sure a lot of people will come up through the museum world that may not have a stop at a contemporary art museum. They stick more to traditional museums in terms of more historical collections. That was a role in an education capacity. When you got into that role, did the light come on for you and say, "This is what I want to do specifically?" You had that curatorial experience. Was there something that felt right and natural for you when you had that first education room?

I felt that back at Lawndale because I was creating those early activities and seeing how people wanted to engage with the art in these activities that I was designing. That was a huge light bulb for me. It was like, "This is the path I want to take." When I went back to Houston, I was trying to figure out whether I wanted to be in a large or a mid-sized organization. That's what was on my mind at that time.

What did you decide ultimately fit best for you?

At that time, I thought that I wanted to focus on contemporary art. First of all, everybody was seeking me out to talk about contemporary art at a fine arts museum. When this position here in Boston came up, the other thing that was attractive to me was not the weather but the idea of working with adolescents, which is something that I hadn't very deeply done before. The ICA here in Boston was small when I arrived as well. The idea of also building new systems and a new infrastructure was exciting to me.

How long did you deliberate over a move that far North?

I can tell you a story or a little anecdote. I came for my interview in June. I was shocked that I needed a jacket, which I hadn't brought. That took me aback. I kept referring to that moment. I'm thankful that I have a partner that's from the East Coast of New York. That helped me make this decision.

From a climate perspective, it's a lot different than being down in Houston. I'm sure it was an adjustment for you. Over the course of your career thus far, what are the strengths that you've relied on to help you be successful in the different roles that you've had?

Staying open to opportunities, whether that's for my career, programming here at the museum or anything of that sort, listening to what's out there and then understanding what your next move is going to be is important.

What have you had to work to develop?

It's interesting. I've been thinking about that in terms of reflecting on my career. The one thing I've had to work on since I first started was being comfortable with my voice and my experience and knowing that I do have that experience. That was an adjustment for me when I was starting, especially in my 20s and early 30s and so forth but thankfully, I'm in a different place now.

What are you working on developing?

One of the things that we're working on might not sound exciting but we have been thinking a lot about sustainability, taking a look at all of our programs collaboratively here in our department, having some serious conversations about what's working, what's not working and how can we do it better and making sure that it's something that can live even beyond us.

We need to think about sustainability, take a look at our programs, and have some really serious conversations about what's working, what's not working, how we can do it better, and make sure that it's something that can live even beyond us. Click To Tweet

What are your biggest influences outside of family and close friends?

The people that I work with and the communities that I work with are the biggest influence in terms of how I'm going to move forward with my work. Those conversations make such an impact on me, whether it was during the pandemic learning about the scarcity of food, access to art materials or anything of that sort. That's what keeps me going. That influences me.

Have there been people along the way whom you would look back and say, "So-and-so helped me and made a huge difference in my career?"

There are mentors along the way that I've had. The other thing that has occurred is that if I remember someone, I might reach out to them and have a casual conversation. I have found out that they will remember that conversation all the time. They might forward me something that they have seen or read about. That's fantastic. I remember I once had a conversation with an artist who was visiting here in Boston. He was telling me that every year, he asks someone if they could be his mentor. It's interesting because when we think about mentorship, we think about it at the beginning of our career but that's a lifetime process.

You hear more about reverse mentoring where the senior people AKA the older people are tapping into the more junior or younger people to understand a variety of things, "Explain social media to me. Explain how your generation thinks about this." It has to be a lifelong thing. Are there things that you specifically did to foster the mentoring relationships that you had or did they just come about?

Mentorship is a lifetime process. You hear more now about reverse mentoring, where the older people tap into the younger people to understand a variety of things. Click To Tweet

One of the things that I did early on when I was in college is I took advantage of either volunteer opportunities or paid internships. Every year, I had an internship. That helped me get into different workspaces and develop a lot of different relationships. I always recommend that or suggest that to students that I meet with.

What do you do to recharge and keep yourself energized?

I take a lot of walks with my family. I read a great deal. Traveling as well recharges me quite a bit. I come from a very large family. Spending time with family is a great thing.

Is most of your family in other parts of the country? Have any of them come North?

They come once in a while but all of them are in the South. They don't come very often.

Other than the two weeks in the summer when it's warm. The museum is getting ready for the Simone Leigh exhibit but what else is ahead for you and the ICA?

One of the things that we're working on at the moment is preparing for opening our seasonal space. We have a summer space in the neighborhood of East Boston. The name of the artist that's going to be featured there is Guadalupe Maravilla. He is an artist that thinks a great deal about wellness and healing practices as well. We have been meeting with the artists and also meeting with different community members in the neighborhood to better understand what practices exist there and see if there are opportunities in that we can work together. We have a full menu of different types of activities and programs that we're going to be rolling out for the summer season. I'm excited about it.

What's the ethnic mix of that neighborhood?

It's a predominantly immigrant neighborhood. Spanish-speaking is very high. There's a large population of residents that are from El Salvador, especially. There are people that we're trying to connect with.

Have you heard anything of particular note in terms of how they think about health and wellness that you're trying to incorporate into the programming that you do in the summer of 2023?

It has been a wonderful learning experience for me as well. This is what I'm gathering. Since the pandemic especially when access to care continues to be limited, a lot of people are doing virtual visits with doctors and sometimes it's difficult to get appointments. Communities are thinking a great deal about the different practices that different communities around the world can bring to the table as well. Thinking about wellness and health, not just from curing diseases but also curing ourselves every day has been fascinating for me to hear. We're going to be meeting with some medical practitioners as well soon who is also thinking about it.

Nowadays, communities are thinking a great deal about the various practices that different communities from around the world can bring to the table as well. Click To Tweet

Here's the last question. When you think back to the early days of your career, what do you wish someone had told you then that you know now?

It's not a straight road. It's going to be a zigzag road within your career. Don't be scared of the different opportunities that might come and that you might stumble upon.

It's the point you made about being open. You would hear people start to talk about this idea of the squiggly career or the non-linear career. Careers are taking a greater variety of forms with each generation as the opportunity set for most people broadens relative to what the generation that came before them had. It puts a lot more burden in some ways on you individually to figure things out.

It's not like you get a job with a company and stay there for life anymore. You don't have a pension. You got to manage your retirement savings. There's a lot more that has been put on the individual but there are also a lot more choices. What do you think about that? Is it an opportunity? Is it a burden? Ultimately, that has a big impact on how you approach a lot of things in terms of your professional life.

It's a double-edged sword.

Monica, thank you. This has been great. It's good to connect and cover some of your journey, which I had never talked with you about in the past. We covered a pretty broad range of things going on at the museum and what you do in the education department. As I said at the outset, all the great work that you do always impressed the heck out of me. Thank you for that. Thank you for the difference you make in the community and the difference that you've made more broadly in terms of the national programs that you run.

Thanks for having me and for highlighting our work.

Have a good rest of your day.

Thank you.


I would like to thank Monica for joining me to talk about her work at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art and the many great programs that they run for children, teens, adults and art educators. If you're ready to take control of your career, visit If you would like more regular career insights, you can become a PathWise member. It's free. You can also sign up on the website for the PathWise newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Thanks. Have a great day.


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About Monica Garza

CSCL 55 | Art EducationMonica Garza is the Charlotte Wagner Director of Education at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In this capacity, she is responsible for a broad range of educational programs aimed at museum visitors and the local community, spanning children, teens, and adults.

Monica has been with the ICA for 15 years. Prior to her work there, she had roles with the Museum of Fine Arts and the Lawndale Art Center in Houston and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

Monica earned her Bachelors’ Degree in Art History from the University of Houston and her Master’s in Art History from The University of New Mexico. She and her family live in the Boston area.

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