Lambda Archives’ Queer Artist’s Project the toast of the townThe Arts Thursday, March 21st, 2013
It’s rare that an art event in the LGBT community is the toast of the town but that was clearly the case last Friday night at the opening night reception of the Queer Artist’s Project exhibition at the Lambda Archives (SDLA).
“It’s the most exciting art event I’ve been to in a long time,” Julie Warren told me when I bumped into her upon my arrival. “It’s great to see all this lesbian and gay art in one place.” Warren was standing dead center of the bright, light art space just inside the archive office’s entrance. Over by the door a portrait of Harvey Milk represented Warren’s own contribution to the show. She was there to join in the celebration with her longtime partner, recently retired state Sen. Christine Kehoe. Kehoe’s professional belongings were recently donated to SDLA for preservation and future display.
It was dark when I arrived and the charming courtyard that runs the length of the building behind Diversionary Theatre was bustling with activity. Arty types were milling and chatting, votive candles were glowing beneath the palms and at the far end of the walkway a large projection performance of some kind seemed to be in progress.
Inside, archive volunteer and Queer Artist’s Project curator Cesar Chavez and Lambda Archive archivist Kelly Revak were standing off from the crowd surveying the turnout. I asked them how the night had turned out and they were both clearly delighted. This event was SDLA gallery’s second opening. “The support is amazing,” Revak said. “Plus it’s great to see art historians and history buffs and LGBT students and people from the community all together in one space.” Chavez agreed, reminding me that this small exhibition was just the start of their work with the Queer Artist’s Project. “The collection will evolve,” he told me “and local artists are welcome to contribute to it. They just have to contact us.”
San Diego Lambda Archives was founded in 1987 and they have kept busy collecting, preserving and making local LGBT documents, art and ephemera available to scholars and other interested parties from then on. This has happened at Pride every summer and then in their cramped space on the second floor of the building where they are now. But after many years of planning and dreaming the non-profit moved to a larger more suitable ground floor space in 2012.
Frank Nobletti, who served as Archive’s board president during those years was part of the journey. I asked him what the move has meant. “Oh it was so long in the planning and quite a struggle. But we made it. The biggest difference now is for the volunteers. They can come and organize the material without being on top of one another. Now there is a comfortable space to work in.” Nobletti noted that he knew the archive would need to grow because of the aging LGBT population and the flood of material that would come. Looking pleased with our city’s forward planning Nobletti continued, “Representatives from other archives have come to visit and they envy our space.”
Sami Peterson was continuing her performance piece in the courtyard as I was leaving. An audience had accumulated up an outside staircase close to a podium where the performance artist stood before a large screen that projected video of the audience looking back at itself. It was interesting and then frightening when I got close enough to have a massive version of my own face up on the screen.
On my way out I chatted to a volunteer for the event. Zeke Medine told me that he was one of Frank Nobletti’s students. He was taking a class in sexuality at SDSU and Professor Nobletti had offered extra credit to those students who signed up to volunteer. Medine was happy for the extra credit but also delighted to be at the event because he is straight and wanted an opportunity to experience local gay culture.
He did not go to bars and clubs or hang out in Hillcrest so this was a first impression of our community. He had many questions. The San Diego Lambda Archives is clearly an ideal forum for him and others to find many different answers.
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