Alumna’s Schneider Museum of Art experiences on campus, helped lead to a career at the world-famous Smithsonian in Washington, DC
It’s not often that small-town Oregonians have the opportunity to help manage and promote world class exhibits in one of the most bustling cities in the world, Washington, DC, all while working at the legendary Smithsonian. But Raider alumna Hilary-Morgan Watt ’09, does it every day! Hilary-Morgan grew up in Montreal, Quebec, but after several family vacations to the beautiful Oregon Coast, her parents made the move to Gold Beach when she was 10 years old. After a few years on the coast, they moved to McMinnville in the Willamette Valley. While attending McMinnville High School, Hilary-Morgan was interested in the arts and theatre and received guidance counselor advice and information about SOU in Ashland. She travelled with her mom December of her senior for a campus visit. “When we got to Ashland, it started snowing and it made the town and campus really enchanted. I loved the vibe and just knew it was where I wanted to go to school,” she said.
Once on campus, Hilary-Morgan took theatre classes early on but switched to art as she started thinking about her major. By her sophomore year she volunteered and interned at the Schneider Museum of Art (SMA) on campus while holding down part time jobs at Cascade Dining as well as being a Resident Assistant (RA) in both Madrone and Cascade Halls. She became President of the French Club and grew to enjoy the courses of Robin Strangfeld and Cody Bustamante. “Robin was an engaging and energetic teacher who built a great family atmosphere in the art program through club activities, pizza parties and ceramics shows. Cody was a great painting mentor and teacher and I was able to earn my own studio location in the program by the time I became a senior. All of it was a magical time!” Watt said. “Ashland is the friendliest place I’ve ever lived. We had so much fun there in the art program, enjoying restaurants and attending plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I’ll always cherish my time there,” she added. She earned her bachelor of fine arts in June of 2009.
Knowing she wanted a museum career track in the arts, Hilary-Morgan applied to several graduate schools and got into the George Washington University (GWU) museum studies program, which has a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. She earned her master of arts in museum studies in 2012. While in DC in the museum studies graduate program, she built relationships with museum curators, artists and personnel, which would prove to be a great network for her future.
Her first position after graduate school was with the art gallery for American Association for the Advancement of Science as a contractor. Shortly afterward she became the program coordinator. Then she got her big break, earning a position as the Social Media Manager for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. “I was their first-ever full-time social media hire and it was a lot of fun because I got to create everything from scratch, work behind-the-scenes with the collections, and even got the opportunity to travel to follow incoming exhibit journeys like the tyrannosaurus rex specimen from Montana to DC,” said Hilary-Morgan.
She then moved over to the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, building their online community for the next five years. “I led social media campaigns for blockbuster exhibitions, directed video production and interviewed artists like Ai Weiwei, and promoted our museum to millions worldwide,” she said.
Most recently she was hired as the Director of Digital Engagement for the Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building, where she’s working on campaigns about robots, space travel, a sustainable planet, and building a hopeful future. Additionally, she teaches social media at GWU lecturing on creating digital campaigns, crisis communications, fundraising, video production and ethics. It’s a long way from the Oregon Coast and Willamette Valley but Hilary-Morgan has treasured her journey.
“I cherish my time spent at SOU and with the creative community of Ashland. I had amazing mentors who helped me step out of my shell, find inspiration, and manifest an exciting career in a field I love. And you can’t beat those mountain views on the walk between classes.”
Learn more: Smithsonians’s Arts + Industries Building