Archives & Museum: Two Places, One Mission ay San Francisco’s GLBT Historical Society

Traditionally, archives collect personal papers and organizational records for use by researchers, while museums collect art and artifacts for preservation and display in exhibitions aimed at the general public. At the GLBT Historical Society, we’ve queered those boundaries ever since our founding more than three decades ago.
Faced with a dominant culture that had long ignored the LGBTQ past or actively worked to erase it, the organizers of the Historical Society did not have the luxury of placing this document in an archives and that artifact in a museum. No mainstream institutions of either kind were interested in queer history.
Through our first two decades, we happened to acquire more archives than objects — and we had the resources only to hire archivists to manage the materials. Our Art and Artifacts Collection also grew to include many treasures, but it wasn’t well catalogued and wasn’t readily accessible to researchers.

All that changed when we opened the GLBT History Museum in 2011. With more donations of objects coming in and with our own curators and curators from other museums eager to use the collection, the time had come to put these materials on an equal footing with the archives.

Cataloguing Our Art & Artifacts

As the first project registrar for the Art and Artifacts Collection, I have worked with a team of trained volunteers to fully document our holdings. We are looking forward to making a searchable catalog with detailed records of our collection available online.

Our museum and archives are in two different locations, but they serve a single mission: promoting knowledge of the LGBTQ past. We’re committed to bringing their activities together using innovative approaches. Highlighting our Art and Artifacts Collection is one of the key ways we will be doing this, with the new digital environment offering the prospect of increased public accessibility.

Our objective is to close the gap between formal research and informal education by making our full holdings of fine and graphic arts, photographs, memorabilia, costumes and other objects accessible to the widest public. You will be able to visit the museum to see actual objects selected for exhibition — or visit the online catalog from anywhere in the world to explore our holdings in all their complexity.

You can help the GLBT Historical Society make the Art and Artifacts Collection more accessible by supporting “Illuminating Artifacts: Preserving Our Material Culture,” the campaign marking our 33rd anniversary. To learn more and make a donation, click here.

Ramon Silvestre is the collections and exhibitions registrar for the GLBT Historical Society.