It may or may not be common knowledge to the those living in the real world outside of Museumland that an important anniversary in the cultural calendar is fast approaching. In every major cultural institution and museum in the country curators are (metaphorically) dusting off their gay paintings, lesbian protest badges and transvestite vases, generally getting their queer ducks in a row as they prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act (1967).
For those who, like me, do not recall the summer of love and who, also like me, do not know nearly as much about LGBTQ history as they would like others to think I should explain that the passing of the act was a pivotal moment for human rights in this country that decriminalised sexual activities between consenting, men aged over 21, in private…. which may have actually led to an increase in arrests of gay men cavorting in groups or public spaces but was definitely a step in the right direction. This much extolled ‘milestone’ signified a general movement towards greater individual freedoms and a feeling that the state/law/church had no place in the private sex life of consenting adults.
At Brighton Museum we have been working on a three strand programme for about a year including exhibitions about the art of LGBTQ Trail favorite Glyn Warren Philpot and the enigmatic Gluck, who loved to cause controversy in her lifetime and would, I’m sure, be delighted that she is now an icon to both the trans* and lesbian communities to the consternation of both (Gluck famously refused to use any gendered form of address but did use female pronouns to describe herself ).
The third strand will be a community exhibition with a twist, something rather bold that we’ve not tried before, an open call to local LGBTQ groups and organizations to come forward with their ideas for exhibitions to be realised in our Spotlight Gallery.
The open call approach came out of an ambitious open evening event last September for local LGBTQ groups, artists, magnates, movers and shakers where we pitched some of our ideas and asked for feedback. From this feedback it emerged that just because it has been decided that the 1967 Act is important culturally by cultural-types doesn’t mean that it necessarily has a lot of resonance of with local LGBTQ ‘audiences’. These audiences have their own ideas about what needs to be remembered and celebrated.
We learned for example that important established organizations like BLAGGS have anniversaries of their own to celebrate. We also learned that many people living in Brighton & Hove were involved in action against Section 28. That a whole creative and political community grew out of that action (Brighton Pride as it is today grew out of marches against Section 28 in the 90s) and that those residents are now looking back at their place in history. We also learned that there was a certain cynicism around community participation in museum activities: that it followed a formula with the ‘usual suspects’ being called upon to represent the everyone; that people were asked to provide content in a prescriptive way for ideas that were already developed; and that the outputs from these activities were conservative. One anonymous suggestion read simply ‘Be Bold…Surprise Us’ which became the title of the community exhibition programme’s open call.
We want to give groups who may not normally consider holding an exhibition or working with a museum a chance to step forward with their own stories. To groups who may run on the goodwill of volunteers in their spare time, who have never worked with an institution before, or who may have no experience of creating displays, the idea of developing and installing an exhibition may seem very intimidating and to this end we have kept the brief completely open and the application process light on paperwork. The final exhibition, or program of exhibitions, will be installed in Brighton Museum’s Spotlight Gallery with the first display opened to the public on July 22nd (the day the 1967 Act was passed) but these are the only firmly defined parameters.
Within the practical constraints of the available space and resources applicants can do (almost) anything from using graphic and text panels, to displaying, paintings, sculpture, film, and/or audio work.. There is scope for performance or workshops to be run in the space and applicants will also be able to use our collections to tell their stories. Over a broad time frame of around 2 years we will consider running a series of exhibitions with different partners. Groups that perhaps don’t have enough material to fill the whole gallery can opt to share the space with other applicants and Brighton Museum staff will be on hand to help at every stage with any guidance, resources, expertise, and any training that may be required to realise their vision.
For those who don’t live in Museumland I should reiterate that this is an exciting, frightening, and experimental time. LGBTQ people have become increasingly aware of the importance of having their histories, histories that they have long had to research, collect and care for using their own scant resources, acknowledged by wider society and museums and heritage organisations are now beginning to meet their challenge to collect, frame and interpret LGBTQ lives meaningfully. Though there is still a lot to learn it is clear that the communities and the museum have a lot to offer each other.
Blog post from Kelly Boddington, Co-creator of LGBT trail at Brighton Museum
For a Be Bold…Surprise Us application form please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Completed application must be received by midnight Sunday 19th February 2017.