Thursday, 21 March 2013

Week 39: Take a Closer Look!

In my 27th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I drafted a press release for the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party, welcomed a new volunteer, and conducted an oral history session with C. Jerome Woods and S. Pearl Sharp.

Audio Assault Update: Now that the walls are painted, we brought out all of the materials and determined how we wanted to place them on the wall. Larry and I decided that we needed more images to make the messages from the albums more obvious to patrons. I had searched for these images (police brutality, destruction after Watts riots, and Wattstax artists) in our photograph collection in the past without much luck. I broadened my scope to images from newspapers, pamphlets and books to source the images that we wanted. This time, I found everything that we needed, and they will be scanned, cropped and reproduced for the exhibit.  

Although it pained me to think about other projects while Audio Assault remains unfinished, I am planning the Roses and Revolutions Listening Party for March 30. Roses and Revolutions is an album that was produced by D.S.T. Telecommunication, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1975. Sorority members, Ruby Dee, Nancy Wilson, Leslie Uggams, Roberta Flack, Barbara Ann Teer and others recorded the album to represent a black perspective for America’s bi-centennial celebrations. The record is full of singers and actors reciting poems, performing dialogues and singing songs that represent the black experience in America. The works of Dudley Randall, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and Countee Cullen, among others are all included. I was introduced to the album by a woman who was touring the museum, and saw me planning for my exhibit, back in January. She loaned the museum a copy of the album for inclusion in the Audio Assault exhibit, and encouraged me to reach out to Dr. Betty Smith Williams, former president of D.S.T. Telecommunications, to learn more about the album. I assumed that everyone would want to know more about the album, so I asked Dr. Williams if she would like to talk about the album with me in front of an audience. She agreed and we are working together on the structure and content of the program. Larry helped me draft a press release that we have sent to media outlets and all of the local Delta Sigma Theta chapters; hopefully we will have a large turnout.
Since Lloyd and I presented at the Village Green for Black History Month, the museum has had an influx of donations and volunteers from this residential community. I gave Carol an orientation/tour on Wednesday this week. Carol is on the schedule for four hours on Thursdays and Fridays. I learned a valuable lesson about volunteers in the archives with Carol this week. When she told me that she liked working with papers and putting things in order, I assumed that putting the LGBTQ publications in chronological order would be a great introductory task for her. I forgot to mention to Carol that there are some sexually explicit pictures and stories in those publications. It did not even occur to me that the imagery and the content would make her uncomfortable. When I went to check on her, she told me that she was taken aback by the materials but she was determined to complete the task. I apologized profusely and offered to re-assign her but she insisted that it was okay. Carol has moved on to other tasks within the museum and sometimes we have a laugh about how I “hazed” her on her first day at the museum. Archival collections are so interesting because our understanding of them is extremely varied depending on who we are in relation to the materials. The Black LGBTQ collection, for example is a pile of papers for me (archivist) to describe, a scrapbook filled with friends for Jerome (donor), something to garner funds from for Larry (executive director), or folders full of lude pictures for Carol (volunteer). In the future, I plan to look outside of my own understanding before I send another volunteer into the archival wilderness.   

The Black LGBTQ project has generated a bit of a buzz around the museum and the collection advisory board, since I have made processing the materials a high priority. One of our board members, S. Pearl, suggested that we record the processing sessions for the museum’s collection. I ran it by Jerome and he was willing, so our session this week included S. Pearl and her recording device. While everyone had the best of intentions, the session was a bit of a bust.  S. Pearl asked for descriptions of everything we touched, Jerome felt at times inhibited and at other times verbose with the microphone, and I was struggling more than usual with staying on task and moving through the materials. In the end, we determined that we needed to identify the purpose of the oral history and stick to a prescribed plan. I believe that the strength of Jerome’s narrative lies in the connections that he can make among various people within the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles, during the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Perhaps we need to pull several items from the collection that will trigger his memories and record the output. I’ll need to work out the details and talk to S. Pearl and Jerome, but I think that it would be a step in the right direction.

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