When Madde Hoberg first envisioned an exhibition for the Main Library Gallery, she saw the potential for a space filled with local queer history, joy, resistance, and creativity. Three years after her initial exhibit proposal, Out & About: Queer Life in Iowa City is now open for all to visit.
“We invite everyone to explore some of the diverse and complex history of LGBTQ life through an Iowa City lens,” said Hoberg, who is library annex assistant for the University of Iowa Libraries. “The exhibit starts with the foundation of the Gay Liberation Front on the University of Iowa campus in 1970—itself a response to the Stonewall Riots in New York City—and illustrates the evolution of LGBTQ rights, advocacy, community needs, and queer joy through the present day.”
Diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion are important values for the University of Iowa Libraries. The exhibition recounts stories from the recent past about queer student groups, Iowa City businesses and organizations, and publications by showing a variety of documents, photos, artifacts, and ephemera from local archives. Materials on display in the exhibition are from collections in the University Archives and Iowa Women’s Archives at the UI Libraries and from the LGBTQ Iowa Archives & Library in Iowa City.
Hoberg was also able to procure a few objects, stories, and statements for display directly from community members. Such treasured items as University of Iowa Rainbow Graduation cords, a Gamma Rho Lambda paddle, and I.C. Kings-related accessories appear in the gallery.
“I am beyond grateful for the people who trusted us with their personal artifacts, their histories, their voices. They enriched the exhibit and made it more ‘real,’” she said.
Some materials from the annex, a controlled environment off-site storage facility for the Libraries that houses thousands of books and collections, also ultimately made their way into the exhibition. One impactful experience for Hoberg while preparing for the exhibit was shelving Steven Allen Carson’s papers [RG02.0009.051], which are now available for research. Many of the materials provide his unique perspective on the emergence and growth of Iowa City’s gay community between the 1960s and 2000s.
“I peeked into the photograph boxes and, while about 15 feet up in the air, used the light on the cherry picker to view the slides. It was an incredible and moving experience,” said Hoberg. “Looking at the full slide sheets really gave me a sense of what Steven thought was beautiful and important, what caught his attention. It showed the complexity of his life as a gay man in Iowa City while also celebrating the simplest of pleasures.”
In addition to her position at the University of Iowa Libraires, Hoberg volunteers as the archives coordinator and interim executive director at the LGBTQ Iowa Archives & Library (LIAL). LIAL, a small nonprofit, is nestled within the Close House in Iowa City. The Close House is owned by local arts organization Public Space One. Hoberg’s support of the queer community and her commitment to queer archival collections made curating this exhibition a natural move.
“I was inspired to work on Out & About by a desire to explore LGBTQ stories of resistance and joy in Iowa City, and also to help humanize queer and trans existence within our communities,” said Hoberg. “While researching for the exhibit, I appreciated digging deeply into collections that I had previously only known by name either through other research or my work at the annex. It gave me a better understanding of our current LGBTQ holdings, and I left with an appreciation for what we have, but also a great longing for more – particularly from BIPOC community members and trans folks. It raised important questions for me as a library worker not just about whose materials we retain but why people may not trust specific institutions with their stories. It left me curious to know what we can do better to assist these exceptionally marginalized communities in preserving their own histories, either in our own repositories or elsewhere.”
From curation to conservation, design, installation, project management, and more, behind-the-scenes contributors to exhibit production are plentiful. “I think the most surprising part of creating an exhibit was the number of people who are involved,” said Hoberg, who is serving in a curatorial role for the first time. “There are so many moving parts.”
One of the people Hoberg worked with was former colleague Aiden Bettine, who is now curator of the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota Libraries. He helped Hoberg make selections of physical items from the several collections available.
“Having just co-curated the We Are Hawkeyes exhibit in spring 2022, he knew quite a bit about the gallery process,” said Hoberg. “Aiden was helpful in developing the idea that the exhibit should look at larger queer issues or experiences through an Iowa City perspective.”
Out & About: Queer Life in Iowa City is important to Hoberg from a professional perspective as a librarian interested in archives work, but also on a personal level. “Even though my spouse and I have virtually no family nearby, we don’t feel alone or like we have to make it totally on our own,” she said. “The Iowa City queer community is our family. Seeing the friendly face of someone who knows and accepts you as your truest and fullest self is an indescribable experience. Everyone deserves that type of love and community support. There are places at the University of Iowa and in Iowa City where you can find safety, support, and validation.”
Hoberg hopes visitors to the exhibit will gain a greater appreciation for their queer and trans neighbors, family, and friends, and that the narratives found in the exhibit will expand understanding of why queer stories are important. For those in the LGBTQ+ community, she says: “We see you. We hear you. We value you. We want you here. You are so important to our history and our future.”
Out & About: Queer Life in Iowa City will be on display in the Main Library Gallery until June 30, 2023. Admission to the Gallery is always free. Visit lib.uiowa.edu/gallery for information about open hours and upcoming exhibit-related events.