Hunter O'Hainan, Director of the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

On August 22, 2013, Visual AIDS along with the Pop Up Museum of Queer History and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, held a public forum entitled, (re)Presenting AIDS: Culture and Accountability. The event was recorded and transcribed. Panelists we invited to present a short statement about their work related to AIDS, art, and representation. Below, Museum Director Hunter O'Hainan promotes ideas of education and truth through museums.

Hello Everyone I am Hunter O'Hainan, Director of the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art here in New York. This is a real pleasure to be here, and I want to thank everyone for inviting us here. Let me start with a minute about the Leslie Lohman Museum. We were founded, the foundation that runs the museum, was founded in 1987, really because of the AIDS crisis. At that time families would come in, given the climate, and throw away that was in someone's house. Everything was believed to be diseased, trash, no good, and artwork was being thrown away at the same time. So Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman put together the foundation as a way of preserving what was really intimately important to art makers and those of us who appreciate art. So it really is born out of that part of the crisis.

We were recently accredited by the New York State Board of Regents as a museum, and as a museum I think any of us involved in this business of museums have to realize what are responsibilities are. For me the responsibility of the museum is to educate the public, those who actually come walking through our doors. And I know no other way to educate someone than through the truth. And I can't imagine any organization putting on an exhibition designed to educate and then doing anything else. That is the role we as organizations have to play.

Now the question, what do we as a community expect: we should expect what we want from them, whatever perspective they are bringing, is a truthful and complete perspective. You want to be able to see that perspective as honestly and clearly as it can be represented to you with the resources that they have. And if they are not presenting it to you, it is all of our obligations to let them know. And we do that by giving them honest feedback and the advocacy that we all do. I think that is very important. The comment that Jim made earlier about history belongs to the victors is ability right. If you really think back about what has happened, we have changed the way medicine is delivered; we changed a lot about the pharmaceutical companies. This world today is a very different place than it was 20 and 30 years ago.

And the crisis continues in a very real way and unless we are out there saying something, advocating for it (nothing will change).

We all go to major museums and institutions, and we all see major mistakes being made, we see educational missions being directed by donors and curators, and by board members, and other individuals who have particular motivations to tell particular stories. That is the world they live in, and it is our job to tell the truth and say, you know what, you got it right, except for this. And let us tell you how you can make it better. I am going to stop there. Thank you for the opportunity.

Download the full transcript at: (re)Presenting AIDS transcript