4:08 PM EST, January 20, 2014
When "Out at CHM" began in 2004, the idea for the series was "to do more inclusive history about the city of Chicago, to do more history that was risk-taking," said Jill Austin, a curator at the Chicago History Museum.
After 10 years, 30 events, thousands of audience members and a key role in the museum's induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, it's safe to say the annual lecture series on LGBT history has achieved that.
"Right from the beginning, attendance was super. We were filling up the lecture hall," said Raymond Crossman, past member and current chair of the "Out at CHM" advisory committee. "It's just unheard of for a museum lecture series to draw big and consistent attendance. People know that when they come, they're going to have a good time, and they're going to learn something. We make sure that it entertains and delights but is also scholarly."
The first event in the 2014 season, "Out at CHM's" 11th, proves the point: DJ Alan King, a Chicago house music pioneer, will headline a panel of DJs and academics called "The House That Chicago Built."
Seeing his music given the museum treatment "is great, and it fits," said King. "This is the Chicago History Museum, and arguably Chicago is noted most for a few things: Al Capone, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and house music.
"One of the things we're going to talk about," he said, "is how the music which came to be known as house music kind of moved from the underground, primarily gay clubs and bars, to a straighter audience in Chicago and high school kids and the like."
And in keeping with the lecture series' history-needn't-be-dry profile, King will be spinning records before and after the Jan. 30 panel discussion.
"That's the plan," he said. "We're going to try to have a little party."
The series has tackled less danceable subjects over the years, too, of course. Previous topics include "The Celluloid Closet: LGBT Roles in Film" (2005), "Art, Sex and Censorship: From Paul Cadmus to the PATRIOT Act" (2007), and, provocatively, "Richard Nixon: Gay Liberationist?" (2010).
2010 saw the Chicago Lesbian and Gay Hall of Fame induct the history museum as a friend of the community, "for decades of acquiring and preserving LGBT historical documents and artifacts and for its groundbreaking 'Out at CHM' lecture series, which presents LGBT history in the context of Chicago history," stated the citation.
Such work is hugely important, said Crossman, president of the Adler School of Professional Psychology. "My particular interest is in how important it is for the LGBT community to embrace and understand its history. That's how you find your power as a community, and historically you disempower communities by cutting them off from their history," he said.
In choosing the three topics for this year's series (it has always been three events, almost always in the first half of the year), Crossman said his committee was deliberately trying to choose subjects with an edge.
So after the house music panel, the next "Out at CHM" event will be "Dangerously Explicit: Painting the Gay Male Experience" on March 27, and then "Lesbianography: Lesbians and Sex" on May 8.
"All three we chose because we wanted the programs to provoke some interesting conversations," said Crossman, who is also one of the funders of the series.
Most of the "Out at CHM" events have not specifically tied in to exhibitions in the museum's galleries, but "Out in Chicago," the big and well-received 2011 show about the history of lesbian, gays, bisexual and transsexual people in Chicago, was informed by and discussed in the series, said Austin, who was one of the curators of "Out in Chicago."
And last year, an "Out at CHM" event spun off of the museum's exhibition on the Ebony Fashion Fair, which is still up, and included its own fashion show.
In establishing the series, "one of the goals was to draw (museum) membership from within the LGBT community, and that has happened," said Michael Canfield, a museum program administrator.
But another impetus for the start of the series, Austin said, came when a museum scholar attended a national conference "where people wondered why public libraries would do LGBT history but museums wouldn't."
Since the inception of "Out at CHM," though, that's been changing, she said.
"There's a real imprimatur of, 'Yes, this history matters,' " said Austin, "and the Chicago History Museum continuing to back this program is really kind of a seal of approval."
'Out at CHM: The House that Chicago Built'
When: 5:30 p.m. Jan. 30
Where: Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St.
Tickets: $20 ($15 for members and students)at 312-642-4600 and chicagohistory.org
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