Guest Post: Erin Bailey, Queering the Museum Project

The Queering the Art Museum symposium is a manifestation of all the questions I have about queer inclusion in museums bringing together the best people to answer them. On Friday May 11, Jonathan D. Katz (co-curator of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture), Rock Hushka (co-curator of Art, AIDS, America 2014) and Stephanie Stebich (Director of the Tacoma Art Museum) will look at the regional and national efforts to include queer culture in art museums responding to the question, “how did we get here?” The conversation will continue on May 12 guided by the question “what do we do next?” This will draw on the knowledge of community members to assess the next steps for regional institutions to intentionally approach queer in their programs and exhibitions.

Establishing that we could bring Jonathan Katz to campus was the catalysist for the development of the entire Queering the Museum project. After securing the speaker and the location at the Henry Art Gallery, I approached several departments including Gender, Women and Sexualities studies, Museology, and Art History to support this conversation to enhance the student experience and to meet the need for the Seattle campus to contribute to this conversation started at the Tacoma Art Museum. Attracting multiple campus departments lead to support from the Simpson Center for the Humanities, who eagerly supported the Queering the Museum and wrote an article of our work. The overwhelming support of Queering the Museum inspired me to explore the local profile of queer desire and portraiture, the same themes of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Working with a team in Tacoma I put out a call to artists, with fingers crossed that I would get a response. This call to artists inspired 30 artists to submit their work for the exhibition, hosted by the “Space” Tacoma.

The symposium developed as a response to the community support I have received. Addressing queer inclusion was my intended focus upon coming into the graduate Museology program last year, specifically looking at the barriers to queer inclusion and methodologies for overcoming these struggles. Museums are an important site of informal learning for thousands of people and are places that educate and present content with a voice of authority. This authority creates opportunities for people to interact with real objects and present information that leaves a lasting impact.  The museum also presents its content in a hetero-normative and gender conforming manner, implying that hetero-normative ideas are natural forms of understanding gender for the audience.  The impact of solely replying on hetero-normative ideals forces people who do not fit into these normalized frameworks of gender and sexuality out of the conversation. The work of the Tacoma Art Museum and Jonathan Katz ensure that I had a foundation to engage Seattle and the next generation of museum professionals and art enthusiasts in a dialogue around sexuality and gender, looking at how museums present these “normalized” ideas of gender and sexuality in museums.

This conversation inspired me (and collaborator Nicole Robert) to continue engaging various museums around these ideas of gender, race and sexuality with Queering the Museum (QTM). QTM is a coordinated intervention into representations of Queer people in museums, facilitating a critical dialogue between community members and museum practitioners addressing the role that museums play in forming social norms around gender and sexuality. QTM envisions a world where wide ranges of gender, sexual and racial expressions are embraced in local communities, with a focus on how museums shape and define our communities. QTM believes that museums have a responsibility to account for the role that museums play in constructing normalized ideas of gender, sexuality and race. QTM seeks to educate and facilitate connections between these three groups, using the museum to explore these questions and ideas at the institutional, community and individual level.

I have worked with some amazing people, without which none of this would have been possible. This event establishes the future of the Queering the Museum project. In 2013 we move into the history museum arena, facilitating a digital storytelling workshop, a Queering the History Museum symposium and Seattle’s first Queer history exhibition in over 18 years. I hope that you will join us in the exploration of queer themes in Seattle’s museums over the next year. To stay up to date with what’s happening please visit our website queeringthemusuem.org.

Erin Bailey is currently a graduate student at the University of Washington in the Museology program with a research focus on Queer representation in museums.  She has been working/interning in museums for over four years, in multiple departments.  Her passion for museum inclusion, specifically looking at Queer, stems from her identity as a Queer women and her love for the community.  Community is the sustaining element of society and museums have a perfect forum for the community to truly collaborate. Mostly recently she has stepped into the role of curator, organizer and queer activist within museums leading to founding the Queering the Museum project. Her future work with Queering the Museum project includes curating a Queer history exhibition at the Museum of History and Industry in 2013.

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