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Conversation with Ben Garcia, Executive Director, The American LGBTQ+ Museum

March 07, 2024 11:19 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

Rendering of the New-York Historical Society’s expansion project, as seen from Central Park West. Photo courtesy of Alden Studios for Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Scheduled to open at the New-York Historical Society in 2026, The American LGBTQ+ Museum will occupy 5,000 square feet within the 80,000 square feet new wing expansion. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the new wing will be a five-story structure called the “Democracy Wing.” It will complete the New-York Historical Society’s complex on Central Park West, providing additional space for educational programs and storage as well as a new exhibition gallery, courtyard, and rooftop garden terraces.

The American LGBTQ+ Museum will be New York City’s first museum dedicated to national, and local LGBTQ history and culture. Through exhibitions, contributions from scholars, public programming, and collaborations with other LGBTQ institutions, the museum will aim to act as a “school for activists” by highlighting the lives of queer people who are not ordinarily reflected in our cultural institutions today.

We spoke with Executive Director Ben Garcia to learn more about this unique partnership and the role of The American LGBTQ+ Museum will play in amplifying queer history from across New York State and beyond.

Museum Association of New York: We are excited to learn more about The American LGBTQ+ Museum. I think it’s an interesting and unique partnership with the New-York Historical Society. What do you anticipate or what do you hope the visitor experience will look like?

Ben Garcia: We have a plan for four avenues of impact with visitors because we want to make sure that as a museum of American LGBTQ+ history, we are reaching people around the country. These four platforms include active public programs and partnership work with partners around the city, the state, and the country that we’ve already begun engaging with.

The second platform is a series of robust traveling exhibitions that we intend to create around national stories of interest to queer people and partner with museums around the country and offer that exhibition to them at no cost with the provision that they build out the local aspect of that story in partnership with local LGBTQ+ organizations and archives. It’s a model that the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES) is piloting right now. As important as it is for people to be able to come to a national queer museum here in New York City, it is equally important that they go to their local history museum and see queer history represented regularly.

The third platform is unsurprisingly, digital engagements, experiences, and exhibitions. We want to make sure that we’re meeting people around the world and people around the country who won’t be able to access a physical experience. We think that this will be our largest audience. This is the place where we, potentially, will have the most impact because we’ll be reaching people in the states and parts of the world where they cannot share aspects of their identity, where they still need to remain closeted, or they don't have access to reliable information about queer history or queer lives.

The fourth is what we’re going to be doing here in New York, our home base. Our home at the New-York Historical Society will be a museum within a museum, two separate 501c3s sharing space in their new addition and we expect the visitor experience there to be primarily what you would expect visiting an exhibition in a national museum. The exhibition will be semi-permanent, on view for 10 to 15 years. We’ve engaged Ralph Applebaum & Associates to help lead the process of developing that exhibition and experiences. We think it will be a mix of artifacts and histories as well as space for a memorial to people who died (or were killed) because of their queer identities.

We will also share classroom space, an auditorium, and programmatic and event spaces to allow for regular public and school programming.

We hope to regularly partner with the New-York Historical Society to present rotating exhibitions in other galleries around the building to address a wider range of topics than we address in the core exhibition. And we will also have traveling exhibitions that we’ll create with other museums around the city, state, and country.


Can you describe what you imagine the core exhibition will focus on?

Garcia: I don’t know specifically the stories that we will focus on because we want to let community engagement and interpretive planning determine that, but we want exhibitions that focus on the history of the movement for LGBTQ+ liberation and the ways in which that intersects with other liberation movements. We want exhibitions that point people to where queer lives are currently under threat and provide people with reliable information about current situations in the world and share ways for people to get engaged if they want to support people in those situations.

The other category of exhibitions will be those that focus on the contributions of LGBTQ+ people to culture and the history of the United States in the arts, entertainment, athletics, enterprise, politics, etc. This will be a chance to celebrate figures from history who are well known, but, also a chance to tell the stories of people who may be not as well known.

We want to build a community-engaged, collaboratively built experience, where stakeholders will be able to contribute names and stories.


The museum will have an interesting partnership with the New-York Historical Society. What will that relationship look like?

Garcia: At the highest level, it will be a partnership centered on interpreting nuanced and inclusive history. Our shared space will lead to many partnership opportunities with their education and curatorial teams. Many of the details are still being worked on through a process of drafting a memorandum of understanding. However, we anticipate that our core exhibition will be used in their school programs, and vice versa. We hope to co-curate exhibitions, and to continue to co-present public programs—something we have been doing for the past two years.

There are other logistics that we are still working on like figuring out operating procedures, admissions policies, collecting and fundraising approaches. Our goal is to ensure that we are providing the greatest possible access to the American LGBTQ+ Museum and our exhibitions.

Cross-section of the New-York Historical Society’s expansion project. Photo courtesy of Robert A.M. Stern Architects


But you will have complete curatorial control in your space?

Garcia: Yes, we will work independently as two separate museums with complete curatorial independence. If we want to present an exhibition together in one of the rotating galleries, then that is something we will co-curate together. We have a 30-year commitment to work with the New-York Historical Society.


What will your collection storage look like? Or will the museum be a collecting institution?

Garcia: One of the early decisions that we made was to only to collect in support of our core exhibition, since it will be on display for ten to fifteen years and we don’t want to have to regularly change out what will be exhibited. Therefore, most of what we collect will be on display apart from materials like paper that will not always be on view due to conservation considerations.

We made the decision not to be a systematic or research collecting institution, at least in this first phase of our existence, for a couple of reasons. The first was that as we talked to colleagues in some of the 200-plus LGBTQ+ archives and collections around the country, we heard that there wasn’t a need for another large collecting institution. What was needed was a better way to support the existing archives and collections that were already in existence.

We want to make sure that we are entering the museum landscape in a way that recognizes and centers the work of those who’ve been doing the work already. And making sure that we come up with strategies that lift the tides for all of us together. We agreed that we wouldn’t collect (except to support our core exhibition) and instead we would borrow from existing archives and collections. Some of what we will include in our rotating and traveling exhibitions will come from the New-York Historical Society’s collections, but most will come from community-based or academic libraries and archives around the country. The American LGBTQ+ Museum will pay the lending institution a loan fee and, where necessary, conserve and digitize artifacts. We’ll also provide an additional platform for access to collections for our lending partners.

With this arrangement, we hope to strengthen the existing network of LGBTQ+ archives and collections.


You’ve mentioned a few goals for the museum, even before it physically opens to the public, but what are some of your short-term goals?

Garcia: Short-term is pre-opening, because we anticipate opening in late 2026 or 2027. Our pre-opening goals are to establish strong partnerships as we’ve made a commitment to do all of our programmatic work in partnership. We built our team to center programmatic staff who focus on partnership building. Another short-term goal, pre-opening is to raise awareness among our peers and learn we what need to learn. It’s a lot of community engagement work with focus groups and advisory conversations. That’s all the early work alongside raising the funds to make it all happen.


Can you share more about what funding looks like for the museum? 

Garcia: We’ve created a $30 million dollar campaign over the next four years to raise money to build out our space in New York, create traveling exhibitions, create digital exhibitions, and build programs and partnerships. This campaign also includes our operating costs.


What have you learned in your role about the process of creating and opening a museum? 

Garcia: One thing I learned is that the need for better understanding of queer history and identity is as strong within the community as it is in the broader culture. When I started I assumed that the spaces we convened  would serve as a home and sanctuary for queer people, and that the heavy educational lift would be for people who do not have a queer identity. But what I found out in the first two years in this job is that there is a great need within the LGBTQ+ community for greater understanding of the lives of queer people, especially trans and gender queer folks and BIPOC queer folks. It should not have surprised me, as none of us grew up learning queer history, but we have a lot of work to do within the queer community to make sure that we understand our shared history inclusive of a lot of people and stories that haven’t been included previously.

This is also my first job as an executive director and there’s a lot of learning that comes with that. The reason that I wanted to be an executive director was to use my position to create structural equity and I’ve learned so much about those challenges in this role. It has been incredible to work with a staff and board that seeks to build an institution that integrates the values of activist movements, equity, and inclusion internally so that the external work resonates authentically.


We are looking forward to joining us in Albany this April from our opening keynote discussion with Jennifer Scott, Executive Director of the Urban Civil Rights Museum, for the 2024 Annual Conference “Giving Voice to Value.” I hope you’re excited to join this conversation!

Garcia: I’m really excited to attend because I think the program looks amazing. I’m so impressed with the conversations that the Museum Association of New York is engaging with.


The American LGBTQ+ Museum is anticipated to open late 2026, early 2027. To learn more about the museum, visit

Ben Garcia will join Jennifer Scott, Executive Director of the Urban Civil Rights Museum in an opening keynote discussion, “Slow Cooking: Recipes for Centering Value in Museums” moderated by MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger at the 2024 annual conference in Albany, NY on Sunday, April 7 at 3 PM in Chancellor’s Hall, The New York State Education Department Building. To learn more and to register for the conference, visit

The Museum Association of New York helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities.

Museum Association of New York is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. 

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