LGBT-centred work confers many benefits - Museums Association

LGBT-centred work confers many benefits

How many events have you organised in the past year that aimed to engage with an LGBT audience? Can you …
Ann Bukantas
How many events have you organised in the past year that aimed to engage with an LGBT audience? Can you relate any LGBT stories linked to, say, half-a-dozen objects in your collection?

Is LGBT-themed collecting a part of your acquisitions policy? Does everyone working in your museum know what LGBT means, and if not, have you encouraged them to learn?

Under its proactive social justice agenda, National Museums Liverpool has been asking itself these questions, reflecting on its past activity around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes, while planning new and more consistent programmes for the future.

Our key partner in this work is Homotopia, the Liverpool-based arts and social justice organisation whose activities include an annual cultural festival of international renown.

Recent joint projects have included April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady at the Museum of Liverpool, which celebrates the former Vogue model who was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

The David Hockney: Early Reflections exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery examined the influence of the artist’s sexuality on his early work.

LGBT-centred work can bring many benefits: audience development; the uncovering of a wealth of fascinating narratives within your collections; rewarding partnerships; and the creation of an environment in which young people coming to terms with their sexuality can feel welcome and supported.

Strong emotional connections with visitors are a further outcome; responses can be polarised, so be prepared to monitor and address this. Homotopia’s involvement in staff training at our venues has been crucial in this respect.

It is vital to solicit feedback in order to develop successful future programmes. We are reviewing our evaluation processes to effectively capture audience responses. This is important where sensitivities such as the public disclosure of sexuality may be an issue for respondents.

Following a visit to Liverpool, Polish curator and academic Pawel Leszkowicz wrote that “the collaboration between the [Homotopia] festival and local museums is truly unique and brave, and should be inspiriting for all the curators and institutions working on the still difficult and delicate, but topical, theme of queer culture, subjectivity and rights in the contemporary world.”

We are proud of our achievements, but there is still much to do. If your museum does nothing in this field, start now. The rewards are great and your museum, staff and audience will be enriched.

The Unstraight Museum, an international conference organised by Homotopia and National Museums Liverpool, takes place at the Museum of Liverpool on 13-14 June. 

Ann Bukantas is the head of fine art at National Museums Liverpool

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