As 2019 draws to a close, the New Orleans-based LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana can look back on a year of solid accomplishments.
In addition to facilitating the donation of material to area libraries and museums across the state, the Archives Project also launched an Oral History Initiative and opened a new exhibit space.
As a statewide collective, the Archives Project works in collaboration with institutions across Louisiana to preserve materials that chronicle local LGBT+ history. These materials include personal papers (letters, diaries, photographs, etc.), organizational records (minutes from meetings, newsletters, brochures, etc.), audio and visual recordings (interviews, Carnival Balls, public protests, meetings, etc.), ephemera (fliers, programs, posters, business cards, etc.), and publications (Rooster, Impact, Zipper, etc.).
In the last year, the Archives Project enabled donations to a number of archival institutions, including: the Special Collections Division of the Tulane University Library, The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Amistad Research Center, Louisiana State University, the Center for Louisiana Studies, and the Louisiana State Museum, among others.
The largest of these donations in both scope and size was the Valda Lewis Collection. From 1987 to 1993, Valda Lewis (and Loretta Mims until 1990) produced an LGBT+ television show Just for the Record, which aired on a cable open access channel and covered both local and national topics of interest to the gay and lesbian community. In addition, a monthly newsletter was published and mailed to over 2,000 community members and distributed at LGBT+ businesses to promote the program.
In 1993, Lewis also produced a live call-in show called Queer Street Live, hosted by Judith Wenger and Chip Lohner, which ran for thirteen weeks. With funding from the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, the Amistad Research Center digitized the Just for the Record programs. The shows are available for viewing on the Archives Project website and Amistad’s Vimeo channel.
Lewis also recorded nearly 800 hours of footage of AIDS conferences, public protests, gay Carnival Balls, the Bourbon Street Awards, and other events—all of which she has donated to the Amistad Research Center with the assistance of the Archives Project.
The Archives Project has also launched a long overdue Oral History initiative. Working in conjunction with the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History at L.S.U., the Archives Project has trained several members on how to properly interview subjects and begun interviewing subjects. Thus far, the following people have been interviewed: Valda Lewis, Liz Simon, Stewart Butler, Kruz Sanchez, and Anthony Eshman. The Archives Project is also in the process of assembling a list of people to be interviewed. Transcriptions and audio recordings of the interviews will be available on the Archives Project website soon.
In 2019, the Archives Project also opened an administrative office and small exhibit space in the French Quarter at 636 St. Ann Street. The Project, which has existed for nearly eight years, has never had a headquarters or office. Growing pains in the last year necessitated such a space. In addition to providing an office and work area for volunteers, the venue also features a small exhibit space. The highlight of the exhibit is a ten foot long Timeline of New Orleans LGBT+ History.
Also on display are early issues of gay and lesbian publications such as Ambush Magazine, Impact, and The Rooster. There are also photographs from gay Carnival Balls and Mardi Gras day as well as some Southern Decadence and Gay Appreciation Awards memorabilia. The new space is open from 11:00am to 6:00pm daily and is staffed entirely by volunteers.
On the subject of volunteers, it should be noted that the entire organization is run by volunteers. None of the Officers or Board Members receive a salary. The Archives Project is funded entirely through the generous donations of the public and its modest membership dues ($10 a year).
The remarkable success of the Archives Project is quite impressive given its humble origins. In 2012, Stewart Butler, Otis Fennell, and Mark Gonzales founded the Legacy Project with the goal of compiling oral histories. Completing one interview, the group realized that the time, logistics, and money involved were overwhelming and the Legacy Project slowly dissipated. The need and desire to preserve local gay history was still strong and from the ashes of the Legacy Project, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana rose.
In June 2013, a handful of dedicated and interested people began meeting to discuss the necessary steps to preserve all parts of our local LGBT history and how this endeavor might be undertaken. One of the organization’s first actions was to survey local libraries and collections to determine what LGBT-related holdings already existed. Questionnaires were sent to archivists at several local institutes and several onsite visits were made to local repositories.
In October of that same year, the Society of American Archivists held its national conference in New Orleans and a few members of the group’s LGBT Roundtable met with members of the LGBT+ Archive Project of Louisiana. Holding a community meeting in November, the group set out to gather input from the public. After numerous months of information gathering, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana adopted its mission statement.
In June 2014, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana was officially born at a public meeting where bylaws were adopted and officers elected. Aiming to educate the public about the importance of historical preservation, the Archives Project also aims to share how individuals can safely entrust local archives with the care of the historical treasures they possess.