Formal Gown made of hand-painted Chinese silk, England, About 1760-65 – sparked styles later used in the New York ballroom scene
LGBTQ+ heritage embedded in the rich collections at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) will be revealed and celebrated as part of a major new collaboration, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer history can be found in the museum’s collections in areas such as zoology, anthropology, fine art, and local and overseas archaeology, but it is not visible at the moment.
During an 18-month project, curators and engagement specialists at RAMM will work together with Dr Jana Funke from the University of Exeter and socially engaged artist and writer Natalie McGrath to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in the South West to uncover, create and share existing and new LGBTQ+ heritage at the museum.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community will work with Dr Funke and McGrath to interpret the collections in order to reveal untold LGBTQ+ stories. These will be shared through special events and performances, an online trail and website, and a new piece of creative heritage writing by McGrath.
The 18-month long project, Queering the Museum: Creating, Uncovering and Sharing LGBTQ+ History at RAMM, builds on an existing collaboration with young LGBTQ+ people and RAMM, led by McGrath and Dr Funke, which resulted in the launch of the Rainbow Trail at the museum last year. Inspired by this earlier work, the museum is now expanding its engagement with LGBTQ+ communities to reveal and share the important LGBTQ+ heritage in the collections.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community will engage creatively with diverse museum artefacts and art works through a series of workshops led by Dr Funke and McGrath. As part of an oral history project, individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ will be invited to narrate personal life stories inspired by specific objects in the collections. The stories and objects will be shared on the project website.
McGrath will be a Writer in Residence at RAMM and work with communities to create a range of creative heritage outputs. Through her writing, the currently hidden LGBTQ+ heritage in RAMM’s collections will become visible, allowing audiences to engage with and learn more about sexual and gender diversity in the past and present.
An interactive installation at the RAMM, created by Bristol-based design studio Stand + Stare, will draw upon the responses revealed through workshops and the personal stories gathered through the oral history project.
A series of public events at the RAMM, including a Queering the Museum edition of the popular RAMM Lates series in May 2020, will feature interactive workshops, talks, music, creative activities, Q+As, and performances.
Finally, a new LGBTQ+ volunteer network will be founded at the RAMM to ensure that LGBTQ+ communities feel welcomed and represented at the museum.
Rachel Sutton, Portfolio Holder for Climate and Culture at Exeter City council said, “One of the aims of this collaboration is to ensure that communities and groups who have not traditionally engaged with RAMM or the broader heritage sector see their stories reflected in the museum. The previous pilot project showed that young LGBTQ+ people often feel alienated from heritage sites, but are deeply invested in making historically under-represented LGBTQ+ stories visible.”
McGrath, who is Co-Director of Dreadnought South West, said, “I am thrilled to be working together with the museum and university on this project. We are keen to promote a wider understanding of LGBTQ+ history and politics and I hope that the project will encourage people who may not have previously engaged with LGBTQ+ issues to become more knowledgeable about these topics, providing important new opportunities to counter prejudice and enhance social awareness.”
Dr Funke said: “LGBTQ+ heritage can be found across history and cultures even if it is not always immediately obvious. This important project will allow LGBTQ+ heritage to be identified and better explained at the RAMM, and to make it a more welcoming and inclusive space far beyond the duration of the project. We want to demonstrate how Exeter and the South West are spaces with rich LGBTQ+ heritage and active LGBTQ+ communities. I am excited that this new project will allow me to draw on my own research on LGBTQ+ history and collaborate with a brilliant artist like Natalie as well as local LGBTQ+ communities and museum specialists at RAMM to reveal and celebrate LGBTQ+ heritage.”