What Monte Monreal will remember most about his time at the Harry Ransom Center isn’t so much the complexities of the Gutenberg Bible or Anne Sexton’s drafts for “Flee on Your Donkey,” although those items are two of his favorites in the collection. Instead, it’s the people.
“Broadly, any time I was connecting with the volunteers, whether it was long-standing ones or bringing a new class in—when you interact with individuals willing to give themselves so generously, it has a snowball effect where you want to contribute to your community,” he said.
I have come to comprehend the narrative breadth objects contain…objects have a great deal to say. I have learned in equal measure that these objects need advocates to amplify their stories.—MONTE MONREAL
Monreal, who served as the Center’s Head of Membership since 2021 after many years of running the volunteer program, will now tackle the challenge of running visitor services at a reinvigorated Texas Memorial Museum on the UT campus. As recently as 2013, that museum’s staff was cut to three, but with plans to reopen in the fall of 2023, the university is reinvesting in the potential of the science and natural history collections.
Monreal began his tenure at the Center in 2014, when he joined the staff as Manager of Visitor Experiences. He stayed in that role for six years, leading exhibition tours and coordinating volunteer efforts. During this time, he helped to shepherd volunteers and guests through eighteen months of pandemic-related closures. His greatest challenge was feeling like he didn’t have an audience anymore, an issue he combatted by orchestrating creative programming.
His efforts included a weekly Zoom series for volunteers to gather together virtually, where they watched films and viewed items from the collection, with participation from scholars around the world.
“Hearing how much difference that made for them was really special,” Monreal said. He also worked to build a visitor ambassador website, which has become a “one-stop shop” for prospective volunteers to learn how to onboard with the University.
Upon his promotion to lead the membership program in 2021, Monreal said, “Having spent years inside the multifaceted effort to preserve, explore, interpret, and share material history, I have come to comprehend the narrative breadth objects contain. Whether it is stitching on a centuries-old binding, an actor’s notes in the margins of their prompt book, a single image circled in wax pencil on a contact sheet, story boards quickly mapped out on a film set, or a sketch with present details as noteworthy as those erased, objects have a great deal to say. Though, I have learned in equal measure that these objects need advocates to amplify their stories.”
Nowhere was that advocacy and storytelling more evident than in the tireless work he put in to bringing the Ransom Center’s 65th anniversary gala, A Celebration of Film, to fruition and to restoring the Center’s Membership to its pre-pandemic heights.
Monreal brought his passion for the breadth of the Center’s collections to his work, whether he was working with volunteers, leading gallery tours, or establishing the retail gift shop. And he is ready for the next challenge.
“The thought of bringing a museum back from the brink and starting over from scratch is as daunting as it is exciting,” he said.
At a reception held for Monreal on Feb. 22, 2023, Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss described the breadth of his impact on both the institution and its volunteers, playfully calling out his enthusiasm for the collections.
“Whatever we put on view in the gallery, Monte was into it,” Enniss said.