History museum

LGBTQ History Museum finds silver lining in pandemic pivot to virtual exhibits / LGBTQ Nation

Visitors to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives (SNMA) in Fort Lauderdale, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ libraries and loan collections, have fallen by nearly two-thirds due to the pandemic. Stonewall, like other museums and cultural institutions across the country, is still struggling to resume operations.

Visitors slowly returned as vaccines became available and donors rallied to bolster hard-hit finances. The federal Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program offered a newer lifeline to hardest-hit organizations this summer, covering the kinds of overhead costs that Paycheck Protection Program grants couldn’t.

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During this difficult time, directors and board members looked for ways to fulfill their missions in a future where capacity restrictions, social distancing, mask mandates and tighter sanitation procedures would become the norm. .

Institutions have explored creative ways to ‘pivot’ during the pandemic, moving lectures and performances outside, reinventing activities and exhibits, and, more often than not, leveraging technology and global reach. Internet.

Stonewall, a nearly 50-year-old museum, had already started an ambitious venture to digitize its collection of more than 28,000 volumes and 6 million pages of historical documents, but director Hunter O’Hanian knew there was plenty more work to be done during this critical time.

After months of research, SNMA recently launched a major digital exhibit just in time for LGBTQ History Month in October.

‘In Plain Sight’ is a digital timeline that highlights key LGBTQ personalities and achievements with over 800 entries across 10 categories: AIDS / HIV, Arts, Business, Film / TV, Literature, Memorials, Milestones, Music, sports and theater / dance.

Much more than an interactive exhibit, SNMA’s team of researchers, programmers and designers have created an engaging program that provides in-depth education and opportunities to interact with existing material from the archival collection available at Museum.

“For years, a static LGBT timeline displayed on a wall has become one of the most popular areas of the museum. We wanted to expand its reach to the online public at a time when visits to cultural institutions are limited due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), while making it more timely and inclusive with regards to gender and race, ”O’Hanian explained.

That timeline in the gallery ended in 1999, and O’Hanian pointed out that researchers acknowledged that LGBTQ milestones actually increased exponentially in the decades that followed, citing major victories in the Supreme Court legalizing marriage equality and protections in the workplace, celebrities and professionals. athletes who are coming out and the progress of transgender visibility.

“In Plain Sight” is already a valuable learning resource for students around the world who can view these stories in their classrooms or even on their phones.

“For centuries there was a huge stigma associated with being gay… In recent decades, students and supporters of gay studies and gay rights have examined LGBT history to understand where comes the prejudice and how people have worked to overcome this stigma. . This work is done to improve people today and future generations, ”said O’Hanian.

Beyond young people, the exhibition is also accessible to others who may come out in their thirties, forties or later, he said. And understanding LGBT history is also essential for anyone concerned with racism, sexism, ageism, or any form of systemic discrimination in society. Funding for the project was provided by the Florida Humanities Council.

“It’s important for anyone who cares about breaking down barriers and creating an inclusive society,” O’Hanian said.

“In Plain Sight” isn’t the only innovative program to emerge from the museum’s COVID hub. More than 31,000 visitors have attended a series of lectures and lectures hosted by leading historians, authors and thought leaders via Zoom since the initial closure.

More than three dozen of these conversations are archived on the SNMA website and future speakers include John Catania and Charles Ignacio, producers of the groundbreaking PBS magazine series. In life; colorful storyteller and podcaster Mike Balaban (“BAMMER and Me”); Leslie Cohen, author of The daring of a kiss; and Adam Zmith, author of Deep Sniff: A story of poppers and queer futures.

Even if patrons and school groups are slowly returning to the museum, digital awareness will continue. A grant from the Mellon Foundation has sped up efforts to complete the digitization project and O’Hanian expects constant updates from “In Plain Sight” and the continuation of the streaming lecture series.

“It has become kind of a cliché, but it is one of the silver liners of the pandemic,” he concluded.

To visit “In Plain Sight”, watch the conferences organized or explore the SNMA archives, go to Stonewall-Museum.org.

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