Monday, November 18, 2013

Cost of NY Public Library's AIDS Activism Exhibit 'Why We Fight'?

(Entrance to the exhibition. Credit: Benjamin Shepard.)

On the last day of my visit back East in October, I caught the HIV-related exhibit at the main branch of the New York Public Library titled "Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism" and experienced a vivid flashback moment.

Included is a newsletter from the Lavender Hill Mob, pictured, of which I was a member, about a zap the late Marty Robinson and I carried out in 1987 in Washington, DC, against then-Secretary of Education Bill Bennett.

The afternoon we zapped him was hot and muggy. We went to his lecture at Georgetown University with our Lavender Hill Mob banner and barely ten minutes into his speech interrupted him, to demand AIDS prevention education and condom distribution in public schools before security hustled us out of the assembly hall.

Unable to contain my surprise and happiness seeing my activism with Marty and Mob in the exhibit, I blurted out, "I'm in this show with my friend!" Standing near me was a young furry white guy and a black woman my age, and since the guy had two cameras around his neck I asked him to take photos of me because my camera wasn't working.

As he snapped away, I told him about the Bennett zap and said AIDS activism was far from over. Every day a person living with AIDS swallows a cocktail, or a teenager picks up a condom at her school, or ACT UP/New York pickets a hospital demanding post-exposure prophylaxis, or an activist demands inclusion of PWAs at a scientific conference is a day with AIDS activism.

The woman spoke up to remind the photographer to practice safer sex and that HIV is still with us, commented on the choice of latex or polyurethane condoms. Our impromptu discussion, overheard by others in the exhibit space, was another form of activism.

Being in the show aside, I was impressed with the power of the black and white photos, paper newsletters and various relics on display, not to mention hearing the voices of deceased friends and loved ones from the videos. I recommend that folks catch the show, even though I have issues with the assumption that AIDS activism is behind us.

(Credit: Benjamin Shepard.)

My cohorts in ACT UP/New York had similar concerns when the exhibit opened and they staged a protest and die-in at the library to express themselves, pictured. More contemporary activism!

Curious about the cost of the show, I emailed Jonathan Pace, the senior press rep for the library, for dollar figures. He replied:

Once again I just want to say that I am thrilled you enjoyed the exhibition. I agree with you that it really is very special and deeply moving. The donor situation is simply NYPL policy (and it is pretty common at institutions like ours). 

While we obviously want to thank the people who donated funds to us (because that is so important and we so appreciate it) we don't give out exactly what was donated - it's a confidential arrangement. It's like sharing their personal finances. There are instances in which they give permission, of course, but generally speaking, we don't share exact dollar amounts. 

As for the total cost of the exhibition, the funding came from our exhibitions budget plus any private donations. I can look into this further (I don't actually know the total cost) but again, this is generally something that we don't share.

Echoes of AIDS drug companies withholding research and development costs in these words. Not satisfied with such evasiveness, I contacted out gay Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer's office because he sits on the council's libraries committee and asked him to poke around for hard numbers. His chief of staff Matthew Wallace shared this reply:

I have inquired with the NYPL about the total funding costs of the Why We Fight exhibition. Please let me know any additional questions you may have. 

Keeping my fingers crossed Van Bramer's office is about to bring transparency to the price-tag of the show. Catch the exhibition before it closes in April 2014.

1 comment:

Simon Forbes said...

I would like to see them try and stick you in a glass case lol. Yep HIV and AIDS activism is not history yet it HAS a history and it is good that this exhibition makes younger people aware of that.