The Stonewall National Museum and Archives is writing a new chapter.
Already the largest circulating library of gay literature and periodicals nationally, the Fort Lauderdale center is now aiming for more: with a new "Dear Abby" exhibit; the launch of a separate 2,000-square-foot gallery in Wilton Manors; and the hopes of becoming affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Just last Thursday, the center had its biggest fundraiser, featuring former "Will & Grace" actress Megan Mullally at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Behind the changes is the repository's new executive director, David Jobin, who is looking to broaden the museum's audience beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, to inform gay and non-gay residents and tourists about the importance of preserving gay culture and political history.
"The core issue of the exhibits will always be LGBT issues, but they will have an appeal beyond the LGBT audience,'' said Jobin, formerly executive director of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C.
Jobin took over in June 2013 from Bryan Knicely, who helped the organization cultivate its national reputation and educational initiatives. As Jobin talked about his own goals, he pointed to the current exhibit, "Dear Abby: Letters and Advice on Homosexuality," which is open through Feb. 27.
"It's a good example of the kind of work that we want to move forward with, bringing different audiences together for a shared experience,'' said Jobin, as he walked past giant panels showing published letters with headlines such as "Don't confuse bisexuals with those who are gay'' and "He's transvestite, can't skirt issue.''
The exhibit includes letters from her readers in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a look at the history of advice columnists.
"It's a conversation starter. The conversations lead people to start talking about gender equality issues,'' Jobin added. "It crosses a lot of lines in terms of its attractions. It's not just attractive to LGBT folks."
The group's advertising bills it as the "LGBT community's Smithsonian." And to better capitalize on that, the center recently applied to become a member of Smithsonian Affiliations, a two-way program with other museums, educational and cultural organizations that has 183 affiliates in 43 states, Puerto Rico and Panama. The affiliation would allow Stonewall and The Smithsonian to share information and loan one another artifacts and traveling exhibitions, according to Alma Douglas, national outreach manager.
Douglas toured Stonewall and met with Jobin last fall but declined to comment further because the application is under review.
The Smithsonian designation "would be a real feather in the cap for South Florida," Jobin said.
John Coppola, consultant for museums in Latin America, agreed the designation would put Stonewall "on a bigger stage.''
"It would be the only LGBT museum that would have such a designation,'' said Coppola, former head of exhibits at the Smithsonian. "This is part of the development process and growth process of getting [Stonewall] itself out there. This is a sign of the seriousness of their intentions to be a significant player."
The center's start can be traced back to 1973, when 19-year-old Florida Atlantic University student Mark Silber began gathering books and magazines to better understand his homosexuality. The collection became a lending library that grew throughout the years, eventually moving into the former Gay and Lesbian Community Center on Andrews Avenue.
In 2009, the center relocated to its current home, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd., and changed its name to reflect a national focus. It houses about 6,000-plus artifacts of cultural and political interest, such as the gavel that hammered the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy against gays and lesbians in 2011.
As Jobin sat in his office on a recent morning, he showed off items people have donated to the center: Autographed orange pants worn by one of the cast members of the former Showtime series, "Queer as Folk." Red boots worn by actor Billy Porter from the Broadway musical, "Kinky Boots." Boxes of gay novels and magazines, and at least one framed Boston Globe front page with a 2003 article on the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts.
"We have people who are downsizing their apartment or condo and bring us their book collections,'' Jobin said.
Because of the growing collection, Stonewall leases two off-site storage units. But to free up even more room in its current home, which also displays exhibits, Jobin and his staff leased gallery space on pedestrian-friendly Wilton Drive, where they hope to increase attendance and awareness of Stonewall.
"We are completely off the beaten track here,'' said Jobin, of the Sunrise Boulevard location, which sees about 500 visitors a month. "We are not convenient for tourists … To get the public here is challenging, especially when the public is so concentrated in one neighborhood in South Florida. To not have an intersection [there] is a missed opportunity."
Stonewall plans to launch its new gallery space in March — with an exhibit on Time magazine stories well-known to LGBT and mainstream readers. Covers feature personalities such as sexologist Alfred Kinsey and entertainer Ellen DeGeneres.
"It is our hope," Jobin said, "that as we get more people through the door at the gallery, we can also have a conversation with them about the significance of what we have in terms of the archives and the library."
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If you go
The Stonewall National Museum and Archives, at 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays.
The new gallery space is expected to open in March at 2157 and 2159 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors. Hours will be 4-11 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; plus occasional midnight screenings.
Contact: 954-763-8565, stonewallnationalmuseum.org