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Boston to get a museum focused on LGBTQ+ art and history

Sam Turken
Boston to get a museum focused on LGBTQ+ art and history
Arline Isaacson (left) and Jean Dolin are part of the team creating the new museum in Boston. PHOTO: SAM TURKEN/GBH NEWS

Since immigrating to Boston from Haiti 11 years ago, Jean Dolin has loved visiting local museums. But he’s noticed that they rarely include exhibits that showcase LGBTQ+ art.

Dolin intends to fill that void by creating the first museum in Massachusetts solely devoted to teaching people about LGBTQ+ culture. The museum will be a gathering space where local artists can create and display exhibits. It will also partner with other organizations to highlight Massachusetts’ rich history in the fight for gay and trans rights.

“It’s long overdue. We should have had this a long time,” said Dolin, an art curator, noting there are only four other museums around the country with a similar mission. “We will be an institution that is beyond just Pride Month or October, which is LGBTQ History Month.”

The Boston LGBTQ+ Museum of Art, History and Culture just registered with the state as a nonprofit organization. It still needs to raise millions of dollars before it can open its own space. Until then, the museum’s team will host free exhibits in different locations around the city.

Their plan is to open an exhibit next spring to commemorate 20 years of marriage equality.

Massachusetts made national headlines for becoming the first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses in 2004, and for welcoming one of the first openly lesbian governors in the country with Maura Healey’s election just last year.

But the commonwealth had a role in the LGBTQ+ rights movement long before those recent headlines.

Dolin and Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, noted how in the 1800s, romantic unions between women were known as “Boston Marriages.” Later on, Massachusetts became a trailblazer in the push for LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws.

The new museum will show people what those times were like by partnering with the Boston-based History Project, which has archival collections — including letters, photos and audio — documenting the LGBTQ+ movement in Massachusetts.

“There are so many historic locations in Boston where queer people used to be and where they used to gather,” Dolin said. “Some of them still exist. Some of them are no longer there or they are occupied by other things.”

Dolin already has experience showcasing LGBTQ+ art and culture, previously curating exhibits on the Boston Common and City Hall Plaza that included portraits of local leaders who represent pride. He said he hopes the new museum will be an uplifting symbol of how hard Massachusetts’ gay and trans community has fought for equal rights.

“There’s a lot of stories to be told here and a lot of history that has gotten lost in people’s basements,” said Isaacson, one of the museum’s founding board members. “This museum will provide an opportunity to take those items … and combine it with queer artists and have a multicultural history collection all in one place.”

Sam Turken is the Worcester reporter for GBH News, covering housing, the environment and other social justice and economic issues.

arts, Boston LGBTQ+ Museum, LGBTQ, LGBTQ art, LGBTQ history
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