American LGBTQ+ Museum names first executive director

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American LGBTQ+ Museum names first executive director
Ben Garcia will lead the first museum dedicated to L.G.B.T.Q. history and culture in the city, which seeks to strike a careful balance between New York and national queer history.

NEW YORK, NY.- Almost five years exactly after its conception, the American LGBTQ+ Museum — which aims to open its doors in 2024 — has found its first executive director.

The museum announced Tuesday that Ben Garcia, formerly the deputy executive director and chief learning officer of Ohio History Connection, would inaugurate the role in mid-February.

At Ohio History Connection, a statewide history organization, Garcia managed more than 50 museums and historic sites, the state archives and the state historic preservation office. Before that, he worked as the deputy director at the Museum of Us in San Diego and the head of interpretation and operations at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley, California.

“I’ve spent 20 years working in museums dedicated to ensuring that they are places that work for everybody’s self-discovery, that welcome everybody, that are working with paradigms of inclusion and equity,” said Garcia, who identifies as Latine, a gender-neutral term. “And so to work for a museum that we get to create from whole cloth, that from the beginning can have those values and the beauty of the diversity of this community is — I mean, I just can’t believe that I get to do this.”

The American LGBTQ+ Museum, which will share space with the New-York Historical Society, will be the first museum dedicated to LGBTQ history and culture in the city. (The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in SoHo focuses on art and artists.) As such, it will seek to strike a careful balance between New York and national queer history.

The search committee comprised eight American LGBTQ+ Museum board members, led by the board chair, Richard Burns, along with Surina Khan, the president of the Women’s Foundation of California. Garcia, 53, was a leading candidate because of his extensive experience in museum leadership, as well as his commitment to honoring LGBTQ history, Burns said.

Although many board members have been involved in legislation efforts toward LGBTQ legal equality, they recognize the weight of cultural capital.

“Culture is really a way that people’s hearts and minds are changed,” Burns said, adding that its founders saw the new museum “as a cultural component of our larger movement for LGBTQ equality and liberation.”

But many of the early cultural touchstones around queer identity, Garcia pointed out, represented a cisgender, white perspective. While crucial to opening up people’s hearts and minds, he said, they also formed a very incomplete picture.

“So we’re so excited to be able to fill the picture out, to make sure that this is a multicultural, multilingual experience of queerness, LGBTQ+ identity,” Garcia said.

The director will work with both cultural institutions and leaders and activists of New York’s LGBTQ community, and include in-person and virtual events and exhibitions.

“We want to really open the doors physically to the museum, but also all over: so that people who don’t even maybe have the opportunity to come to New York are going to be able to experience the programming,” Khan said, “because we’re going to make it that accessible.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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