What you might not know

Dan Monroe has been at the helm here since 1993 and has led the museum’s transformation from two small, venerable museums to one of the nation’s top fifteen or so art museums. Prior to arriving at PEM, Dan was President of the Portland Art Museum, and before that, he administered the Alaska State Museum system. He has served on and led numerous professional museum boards. But here are a few things you might not know. As his Special Projects Manager, I’ve had the special privilege of learning the non-resume things about Dan’s life. We’ll cover some of it in this post.

Dan at gala

Dan speaking at the 2013 PEM Gala. Photo by Michael Blanchard

In addition to his work in museums, he has also been an educator, photographer and award-winning filmmaker. He has a brown belt in karate and has been a skier, white-water kayaker and participant in many other sports. He plays guitar, has performed with several bands and helped found a major folk festival. He has extensive boating experience in Alaska and loves to spend time in remote areas. He has cumulatively spent nearly two years in China, India, Japan and Korea.

1.) Dan dislikes the word “visitor” as applied to PEM’s audience.

“While visitor is a fine word, it does not quite capture the experiences we hope to provide, or the relationships we hope to develop between ourselves and the people the museum serves. Visitor connotes a transactional and limited relationship. We want to develop a more connected and personal relationship with the people we serve. Over the next few years, we will be making many changes to personalize the museum, make our work more transparent and create new kinds of connections with members of the PEM family.”

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PEM staff participating in a circle dance led by Annawon Weedon (Wampanoag). Photo by Walter Silver/PEM

2.) A former falconer, he savvies birds of prey.

While studying Medieval History in college, Dan became keenly interested in Frederick II, one of the Holy Roman Emperors. Frederick II, who was a remarkable leader, wrote the first treatise on the ancient sport of falconry. Falcons and falconry have been part of art and culture in Europe, the Middle East and Asia for millennia. Dan became intensely interested in the subject and subsequently spent a great deal of time learning raptor ecology and falconry.

“Hawks and falcons are extraordinarily beautiful. They are perfectly designed for their role in an ecosystem and their powers of flight and sight are unrivaled. Practicing falconry responsibly takes a great deal of time and knowledge. Falconers have played a central role in the recovery of Peregrines and many other threatened raptors. Though I long ago ceased to have the time required to practice falconry, I retain a keen interest in birds of prey and continue to enjoy art that features falcons or falconry, such as Audubon’s Gyrfalcons.”


The Peregrine Falcon (to the left of the bald eagle) is in the bird case at our Art and Nature Center. It nests on cliffs and city scrapers and its numbers are increasing. Photo by Dinah Cardin

3.) To date, he is almost certainly the only art museum director who has also been a commercial fisherman.

 “I lived and worked for three years in a Tlingit Indian village, accessible at the time only by charter plane or boat, located on Chichigof Island near Glacier Bay, Alaska. Tlingits are consummate fishermen and most men in the village made a living seine (or dragnet) fishing in Icy Straits and other parts of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage. Having grown up in Colorado, I had virtually no boating, navigational or marine experience. While the waters of the Inside Passage are spectacularly beautiful, they are also dicey. Tides are among the largest in the world, there are many navigational hazards, winds are highly variable and the water temperature is 38 degrees.

Since many of my Tlingit and other friends were commercial fisherman, I decided to buy my own boat, outfit it and fish for salmon and halibut commercially in Icy Straits. The learning curve was steep, the work was sometimes dangerous and I accumulated many memorable experiences and more than a few fishing stories. I learned it was very fortunate I did not count on fishing to make a living.

Living as one of thirty or forty outsiders in a Tlingit village of 600 people provided an opportunity to understand not only the Tlingit and Haida people but also other Native Americans. I eventually worked with Alaska Natives statewide and then with Native Americans across the nation on art and cultural issues. In1990 I was privileged to play a central role in drafting and helping pass groundbreaking federal human rights legislation for the repatriation of Native American human remains, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. This legislation addressed longstanding human rights issues affecting all Native Americans and fundamentally changed the relationships among Native Americans, federal agencies, museums, universities and other institutions. I served for 10 years on the committee appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to oversee implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.”



This fishhook from about 1800 is in our collection, probably by a Tlingit artist and made with wood, bone, spruce root. It comes from Alaska, Pacific Northwest Coast

Stay tuned for more things about Dan Monroe that you may not know.

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