At my day job, scores of press releases arrive daily. Occasionally, I read one and say "Wow!" It happened in March when I saw that artist Ai Weiwei's monumental sculptures were leaving China for display at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson. In Laramie, Dancers of the Joffrey Ballet will be the artists in residence in July at the Snowy Range Summer Dance Festival. Wow! Short story master Tobias Wolff will be the featured presenter at the Jackson Hole Writers Conference later this month. Wow!
But I was doubly impressed last week when I saw the following news release from Rick Ewig, associate director of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. This highlights a good year for equality in Wyoming. The LGBT community is finding its footing in The Equality State. Or rather the state is taking a turn for the better. Witness the big turnout last weekend at Cheyenne's "Pride in the Park." So many attended that the police arrived to tell us to move our cars as they were blocking traffic. We complied, of course, believing in blocking traffic only when absolutely necessary to get a point across.
But I digress.
Here's the news:
The American Heritage Center (AHC) at the University of Wyoming (UW) in Laramie, which houses several significant collections related to slain UW student Matthew Shepard, is currently developing “Out West in the Rockies,” a first-of-its kind regional lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) history and culture archive of the American West.
The scope of of this collecting area welcomes collections from eight Rocky Mountain states: Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. Retiring AHC Director Mark Greene helped inaugurate and Associate Director Rick Ewig will oversee this effort.
Gregory Hinton, creator of Out West, an acclaimed national LGBT western museum program series, introduced the concept to the AHC and serves as project consultant. Hinton announced Out West in the Rockies at the recent LGBQT Alliance luncheon of the 2015 American Alliance of Museums Annual meeting and Museum Expo in Atlanta.
Growing interest in the rural LGBT experience underscores the need for a visible, dedicated, centrally located LGBT Western American archive.
"The LBGT communities are under-documented in many established national archives and historical repositories, but particularly in collections dedicated to the history and culture of the American West,” says Greene, who is a Distinguished Fellow of the Society of American Archivists. “An archive of this kind is long past due. The AHC is proud to be committed to this effort.”
The AHC ranks among the largest and busiest non-governmental repositories in the United States. In 2010, the AHC was recognized as one of the nation’s premier archives when it received the Society of American Archivists’ Distinguished Service Award. The AHC currently houses 75,000 cubic feet of materials, with 15,000 cubic feet remaining to welcome new collections. Thus, with ample storage space, an experience, dedicated, and nationally recognized staff stands ready to accommodate substantial LGBT holdings.
Rural Montana-born Gregory Hinton recently drove from Los Angeles through the Rockies in blizzard conditions to hand deliver his personal and professional papers to the AHC.
"Too many LGBT men and women evacuate our rural western backgrounds seeking community, companionship, and safety in the bit city,” Hinton says. “Happily, not everybody leaves. And more and more of us return. Thanks to the AHC, our stories are welcome in Wyoming.”
A distinguished advisory board of respected western scholars, artists, and activists is being assembled, including W. James Burn, director, University of Arizona Museum of Art; Wyoming State Representative and UW faculty member Cathy Connolly; Rebecca Scofield, Ph.D. candidate, American Studies, Harvard University; and civil rights attorney Roberta Zenker, author of TransMontana.
"Out West dispels the myth that LGBT history (and communities) are bi-coastal,” says Burns, recent chair of the LGBTQ Alliance of the American Alliance of Museums. “Rural western LGBT populations are thriving and make significant contributions to the communities in which they live.”
A call will soon be put out for significant regional collections of organizational records and personal papers consisting of a wide variety of materials, from emails and correspondence to speeches and manuscripts.
“Everything from scrapbooks and photo albums to press clippings and marketing/promotional material; from digital and analog photos to diaries and blog entries; from professional contracts and grants to minutes and annual reports,” says Rick Ewig, also recent president of the Wyoming State Historical Society and editor of Annals of Wyoming.
Seeking to immerse themselves in the vast landscape of the rural American West, scholars and historians from all over the world visit the AHC every year. The AHC is UW’s repository of manuscript collections, rare books, and university archives.