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Unbound: An Interview With Rick Storer, Executive Director of The Leather Archive

By Tony Peregrin in Miscellaneous on Feb 19, 2010 7:40PM

In the Rogers Park community, some might say the ties that bind start with the Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M)—the only museum and archive in the world dedicated to the collection, exhibition, and preservation of alternative cultures. After receiving a shout-out from the New York Times earlier this month, Chicagoist decided to check in with Rick Storer, the 38-year-old executive director of the two-story, 10,000 square feet facility.

Chicagoist: Were you surprised by the nod from The Gray Lady?

Rick Storer: I was excited and delighted, but not really surprised, that the New York Times mentioned the LA&M in their article. The purpose of that particular section is to highlight things that are unique or different about neighborhoods. I think most people would agree with me that the Leather Archives & Museum is unique and different. We have seen an increased number of email inquiries and traffic through our online social networking sites. I forecast that we’ll see an increase in foot traffic as the weather gets warmer and more people are visiting Chicago.

C: Describe the LA&M and its mission.

RS: In addition to being a library, an archive, and a museum, the LA&M is also a community center that serves kink/leather/fetish communities as well as anyone interested in sexual history and sexuality as a cultural and social study. We are at once an art museum and a social and cultural history museum dedicated to exploring alternative sexuality culture in all of its manifestations. The “roots” of the museum rest with the emergence of the modern gay male leather movement, or those men who returned from WWII and wanted to continue the camaraderie and homosocial environments they experienced while overseas, and to eroticize the discipline and protocol of their military experience. With that being said, the LA&M represents alternative sexuality culture in a global sense, and its current collection, exhibition, and programming agenda seeks to reach out to other alternative sexuality communities, particular women’s communities and communities of color within the lifestyle.

C: You mentioned the role of women’s communities in the LA&M collection—when will the new Women’s Leather History Project be ready to launch?

RS: The Women’s Leather History Project started formally in 2010, but has been building up for a long time. The project seeks to collect stories, artifacts and experiences from women. The LA&M is the only museum of its kind in the United States, so I suppose this is the only project of its kind. The program has been described as ongoing, so I don’t see this as something that will ever be finished. The exhibits that this project will create are forecasted to launch in 2011.

C: Give some examples of materials that will be included in the new exhibit.

RS: Some papers we’ve received include appointment calendars, drafts of books, correspondence (in letter and e-mail format) and newsletters. Some of the histories that have been collected are especially interesting, because they’re in a “woman on the street” format. Women at sexuality conferences have been asked quick-answer questions like “How did you meet your first sex partner?” or “What was the first organization you joined?” or “What was the first book or magazine you read about sex?” We’ve also received some beautiful fetish dresses from some fairly prominent erotic film stars and sex educators.

C: You mentioned that the LA&M is rooted in the gay male leather culture—is everyone, gay or straight, novice or pro, welcome at the LA&M?

RS: Yes. The museum welcomes all people to explore this slice of erotica. Our patron statistics show about an even number of men and women who visit. When the LA&M started nearly 20 years ago, the collection’s initial growth was through donations from gay men. In visiting the LA&M, you’ll see how an epidemic like the initial AIDS breakout in the 1980s created a sudden need for a place to store and exhibit history. Since then, the collections have expanded in every direction. Several of our exhibits, such as the Leather History Timeline, The Dungeon exhibit and the women’s photography panel feature art and artifacts that relate to everyone.