Gonzalo Casals, Director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum

Elephant spends a day in SoHo, New York, with the Director of the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Gonzalo Casals.

I live in Jackson Heights, Queens. My day usually starts at Espresso 77, a local coffee shop. Sometimes I just grab an iced tea to go, or sometimes my first meeting of the day is there. Jackson Heights is the home of a lot of social-justice-minded creative folks: filmmakers, theatre directors, cultural producers and artists. You would be surprised to know how many great collaborations among Manhattan-based organizations are originated at Espresso 77! Currently, the Leslie-Lohman Museum is collaborating on a documentary about the Stonewall uprising commemorating its 50th anniversary next year. This collaboration started in Jackson Heights.

Then it is off to the city. The E and F train take me to SoHo in less than 40 mins. I take advantage of the subway time to catch up with news. I use a news aggregator that compiles articles from various news outlets. At any given time, the newsfeed is one third arts and culture, one third LGBTQ related articles, and one third local and national politics. I am a bit of a news nerd and sometimes I scan through three hundred articles a day. I love getting off a couple of stations before my stop so I can walk around SoHo and see what’s happening in the neighbourhood.

I try to keep the morning free of meetings and catch up on my emails. Afternoons are when I meet with my team and we go over their projects. Unless I have a lunch meeting with a funder or potential donor, I generally work through lunch. On special occasions, I treat myself at Hampton Chutney to a delicious dosa with mango chutney.

These days, we have been focusing on government grants and visiting NYC Council Members requesting their financial support for our programming.  Luckily, we have a very progressive council that is extremely sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ communities, and understand their role in the arts and the life of the city. We just finished curating an art installation for the office of Council Member Speaker Corey Johnson. The selection of works from our collection includes images of Larry Kramer, founder of Act Up and GMHC; Harvey Milk, one of the first LGBTQ Out elected officials; and Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, early activists for LGBTQ Civil rights in NYC. The Silence=Death poster is the first thing you see when entering the Speaker’s office. It is very significant for us that our collection and history is present in such an important building in NYC.

“I love getting off a couple of stations before my stop so I can walk around SoHo and see what’s happening in the neighbourhood.”

Evenings are always filled with events. Almost every Tuesday, there is an event at the Museum. We present artists talks, poetry readings, film screenings, and performances. This is how we bring exhibition ideas and themes into lively, participatory conversations with our visitors. I try to save an evening for myself and go to the movies.  My office is a few blocks away from the Angelika, Film Forum or IFC theatres.  Also, one semester a year, either in the fall or spring, I teach arts administration at CUNY. So Monday evening is back to school for me. Gallery openings and other cultural events fill out the rest of my dance card. My day usually ends lying on my couch with my partner, catching up on one of the many TV shows we follow. Sometimes I play Monument Valley as a way to unwind and get ready for bed.

The time I spend at the Museum is by far the most exciting time of the day.  I consider my job my dream job. For the most part, my job is to talk to people. I work with a great team of people that, like me, are passionate about our communities and supporting the work of queer artists. So on any given day, I have great conversations with artists, scholars, activists, collectors. I see my job as creating a platform for all these voices to come together. I love helping people connect with one another. We have a very democratic approach to deciding what is presented at the Museum, and I am constantly meeting with people that bring new ideas to us. My desk is metaphorically, and literally, a big round table.

“I have great conversations with artists, scholars, activists, collectors. I see my job as creating a platform for all these voices to come together. I love helping people connect with one another”

The Museum founders, Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman, moved to SoHo in 1964. They were instrumental in the movement of artists to save SoHo from demolition.  They were also great supporters of artists in the 1970s and 1980s that were living in the neighborhood. We owe it to them that SoHo today has over a dozen museums, cultural organization, galleries and art foundations.  On Thursday evenings, all the art organizations in SoHo are open until 8pm. That is the perfect time to enjoy the neighbourhood.

When out-of-towners visit New York City, they instantly feel the incredible energy of the city. It pushes you, inspires you, but sometimes it can consume you. So, once I year, I like to retreat to the Green Mountains in Vermont to relax and recharge.

Photography © Donald Stahl

The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

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