Rutgers University–Newark’s Queer Newark Oral History Project (QNOHP) has teamed up with Audible to stage a public-history exhibit on local LGBTQ history at the company’s Newark headquarters.
The installation, titled “At Home in Newark: Stories from the Queer Newark Oral History Project,” chronicles the history, struggles, and achievements of the city’s LGBT and gender nonconforming community by exploring their lived experiences. Drawing on QNOHP oral histories, text, photographs, audio, video and interactive elements, the 13-panel exhibit tells how, in the face of poverty, discrimination and other forces, LGBTQ Newarkers have claimed space for themselves through activism, the ballroom scene, churches, bars, nightclubs, community centers and on street corners.
The exhibit was created in fall 2017 through a collaboration between American Studies graduate students and undergraduates in RU-N’s Graphic Design program, with input from community advisors and others. It had traveled to the Newark Public Library and NJIT before recently landing in the lobby of 1 Washington St., which houses Audible and Rutgers Business School. It is free and open to the public. A permanent version of the exhibit is also on display on the third floor of RU-N’s Conklin Hall.
“Audible recognizes the importance of making this history visible and accessible to a broader audience, and they have been an incredible community partner,” says QNOHP co-founder Christina Strasburger. “We are thrilled that the exhibit has been so well received and has fostered feelings of belonging and acceptance.”
Audible recognizes the importance of making this history visible and accessible to a broader audience, and they have been an incredible community partner.
Audible became interested in hosting the exhibit when Coleen Barr, who heads the company’s employee-led LGBTQ staff group, heard about it and reached out to QNOHP. She sees this as the beginning of a long-lasting partnership to make LGBTQ life more visible in Newark. The two organizations marched together in the Pride marches in Newark and New York City. Audible’s float and t-shirts included the QNOHP as well.
The “At Home in Newark” exhibit was curated in fall 2017 by graduate students in RU-N Professor Mary Rizzo's American Studies and History class “Place, Community and Public Humanities” and designed by undergraduate graphic-design students in Professor Chantal Fischzang’s Visual Means class, along with a team of community advisors and staff from the Newark LGBTQ Community Center and RU-N’s LGBTQ & Intercultural Resource Center.
It is based on the extensive work of QNOHP, which was started in 2011 by RU-N faculty and staff together with LGBTQ Newark residents and activists. From the beginning the group was a community-based and community-directed initiative, training residents to do oral histories, collecting artifacts of the local LBGTQ community, and building an archive to make these easily accessible to both the public and scholars.
The goal has been to collect and preserve the life stories of LGBTQ people in Newark, where queer people of color make up the majority of this community. These oral histories are especially crucial to enriching the public’s larger understanding of LGBTQ history by including racially diverse voices and experiences, which are far too often marginalized in mainstream historical narratives. Since 2011, QNOHP has conducted interviews with more than 60 individuals, many of whom were leaders in the LGBTQ community.
In the future, the group hopes to develop curricular materials for local middle schools and high schools. In 2015, it received a $75K award from the RU-N Chancellor's Seed Grant Program, which is aiding its growth. And in 2016 QNOHP was awarded the Rutgers University Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award for its outstanding leadership in documenting, preserving and promoting the history of LGBTQ lives in Newark, and for its innovative partnerships with community organizations and collaborations among faculty, staff and students. In 2017, QNOHP was recognized with a Newark PROUD Award by Newark Pride Inc., Urban+Out and Circle of Friends.
“The Queer Newark Oral History Project exists to combat the invisibility of LGBTQ history in the city of Newark and to ensure that the narratives of the LGBTQ community are told and preserved,” says Strasburger. “People have been excited to learn of the existence of a vibrant queer community and to hear the stories of people with whom they can identify, people who may not have had a platform to share their experiences otherwise.”
“At Home in Newark: Stories from the Queer Newark Oral History Project” will be at Audible through mid-July. For more information or to schedule your site to host the exhibit, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.