James and Sacha joined forces to present two distinct projects in London featuring artists and themes categorised as queer: TATE’s Queer British Art 1861-1967, a response to the 50th anniversary of the UK’s partial discrimination of homosexuality, and Royal Museums Greenwich’s (RMG) Fierce Queens event, a gender-queer takeover of the Queen’s House. Both required internal strategies to ensure successful project delivery for the institution and the community at large.
Strength, patience and persistence are what took these projects from ideas to fruition. Even in organisations supportive of projects for minority groups, both Queer British Art 1861-1967 and Fierce Queens were tested against questions that would not come up for other types of exhibitions audience groups. Project advocates expended a disproportionate amount of professional and emotional resources to get the broader institutional buy-in. In some ways, the quieter prejudice was harder to tackle than overt discrimination – that which is clearly problematic to some people can be considered benign to others. TATE launched an institution-wide series of training sessions around the context and nature of the programmes and the attention required for nuanced and effective communication. RMG also engaged in interdepartmental dialogues in which patience was the key tool when explaining across departmental, generational and cultural contexts.
Queer British Art 1861-1967: 118 000 exhibition visitors (18 000 over target) came through. Visitor data analysis shows a younger-than-average audience, 60% of which were LGBTQI people and 12% of which had never been to TATE before. Fierce Queens’ crowd not only loved the event but engaged with the space and the works through their own lenses. The success opened up an increased internal openness for LGBTQI programming and more LGBTQI projects are confirmed for the future.
Prejudice can exist even among the most well-meaning people – recognizing, unpacking and educating requires time and energy.
Storytelling is essential – finding stories that resonate gives audiences the keys to engage.
There is diversity within marginalized communities – LGBTQI crowds are not just cis white gay men, and as such, they should not be the only part of the audience considered.