The American LGBTQ+ Museum will have a new permanent home in New York City, it was announced in July. After a lengthy campaign to find a suitable location for the museum which has taken over four years, a newly developed area of the New York Historical Society’s building will be devoted to the institution. The association’s building is situated on Central Park West, in the heart of Manhattan Island. It will undergo a 6,500 square-metre expansion to accommodate the LGBTQ+ Museum with work slated to commence on the project next year.
Once the museum opens, it is thought that the museum will become the city’s first public institution that is solely devoted to LGBTQ+ culture and history. The museum’s directors are already committed to preserving the most important parts of the past of the LGBTQ+ movement as it has struggled for decades to achieve a similar social status to the rest of American society. Part of the project will involve educating the public on what it is to identify as LGBTQ+ as well as how things are different now compared to the past.
According to the New York Historical Society, the whole of their building’s fourth floor will be devoted to the museum after the expansion project has been completed. The society was founded in 1804 and went on to establish the first public museum in the entire city, so breaking new ground with the announcement of a new museum devoted to American LGBTQ+ history was not entirely unexpected. That said, even a few decades ago, with some of the more socially conservative views among the American public that were prevalent at the time, the establishment of a museum devoted to LGBTQ+ culture at such a prominent site might not have been possible at all.
A Partnered Project
“We are delighted to go into this partnership with the foremost museum of history in New York,” said Richard Burns, the board of directors’ chair at the American LGBTQ+ Museum’s. According to Burns, the new museum will be dedicated to what he called ‘an exploration and celebration’ of LGBTQ+ history and culture in the United States in all of its diversity. Burns went on to praise the rigour which the New York Historical Society had shown in its approach to the establishment of the museum. He said that he particularly enjoyed their consultation exercises with local communities. “This reflects our own commitment to establishing a welcoming and thoughtful queer experience for our visitors and partners which is inclusive to all,” he said.
Inclusivity and Civil Rights
The announcement, which was made jointly by the museum’s board and the historical society at the start of July, constitutes the end of a long journey that supporters of the museum have been on. In fact, efforts to establish an LGBT museum began in 2017. This is the time when the American Museum of LGBT History and Culture Planning Task Force was founded with the express purpose of establishing an American LGBTQ+ museum. At the time, the mission of the task force was to found a museum that would preserve and celebrates the various different histories and cultures of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. It also saw the role of any future museum to investigate the history of such groups so that more could be known about their various stories. Another part of the four-year journey was that the task force wanted to celebrate the emergent and adjacent identities of other groups in society which is why the museum has been established as an LGBTQ+ one as opposed to merely referring to the aforementioned groups as an LGBTQ institution.
The task force found that the New York Historical Society was a potential partner in 2019 and the two groups have been finalising their plans for an upgrade to the society’s building since then so that it can accommodate the new museum. With a deal now brokered, the partners went public and made their announcement to the New York press. At the time, Dr Louise Mirrer, the New York Historical Society president and CEO, said that she found it gratifying to play a part in realising the mission of the task force. Mirrer said that it had been the dream of many to tell this part of the American story in all its complexity. “We will have a brand-new gallery as well as state of the art educational spaces dedicated to the American LGBTQ+ community and their struggle for civil rights,” she said.
Burns echoed Mirrer’s sentiment, stating that he thought the entire country needed a museum that would recount the often untold stories of how people from LGBTQ+ communities lived lives in the past, especially the life stories of activists in such communities. He pointed out that many of these stories had been lost but that they were worth preserving and recording. “We have reached a tipping point,” he said, “a time when more and more people are realising that we need to record this history and to celebrate it before we lose it.”
According to the New York Historical Society, the construction phase of the project will begin soon but the museum will not be ready to accept visitors until some time next year at the earliest. In the meantime, the two partners in the project will be working with one another to showcase some of the programming that New Yorkers can expect of the new museum in its current galleries and its outdoor spaces. A variety of LGBTQ historical and cultural topics are expected to be covered in the run-up to the museum’s opening. According to Urvashi Vadi, the American LGBTQ+ Museum’s secretary, the institution will help to forge the future by documenting the past, claiming that the case for doing so in LGBTQ+ communities is even greater since they have, “emerged from repression and invisibility into acceptance and pride.”
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.