The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York has received a promised gift of $1 million from the philanthropist and photographer Michael Becker. The museum will make the formal announcement of the donation, which will take the form of a bequest, on the evening of September 27 at its fall gala, during which Becker will be an honoree.
The gift, the largest in the museum’s history, will be unrestricted and will go toward helping to grow the museum’s endowment, as well as for its general operations, exhibitions, and other programming. The museum’s current endowment is around $2 million, with an annual operating budget of $1.6 million.
Since its reopening in March 2017 after renovations, the Leslie-Lohman has received renewed support, the museum’s director, Gonzalo Casals, said, with this gift being a culmination of that. “Michael Becker has been actively supporting the LGBT community for so long and his generous gift will sustain the museum into the future,” Casals told ARTnews. “Votes of confidence like this not only empower us to keep going but also serve as a model to other leaders in the community to understand how important the arts and culture are for communities like the LGBT community in recognizing the work that we’ve been doing for almost 50 years.”
Becker was for many years an estate planner and trust administrator, before retiring eight years ago and pursuing photography and philanthropy. He became aware of the Leslie-Lohman shortly after taking up photography, when the museum acquired some of his photographic work. The museum’s permanent collection now includes images from three of his portfolios, including vibrant color photographs of Gay Pride in West Hollywood, California, and black-and-white prints from a series titled “Les Girls,” which features portraits of the late actress Alexis Arquette, who was a friend.
Through his philanthropic work, Becker has helped support a variety of charities throughout Los Angeles, where he lives, that focus on LGBTQ civil rights, AIDS treatment, mental health and suicide prevention, and educational work through the arts and music, including Inner City Arts. He had also been looking to support the work of a museum, and decided that the Leslie-Lohman, with its emphasis on the preservation and support of LGBTQ art and artists, as being similar to the other nonprofit organizations he supports.
The Leslie-Lohman currently has on view a retrospective of the little-known work of lesbian photographer Donna Gottschalk, which opened last month. On Saturday, September 29, it will open “RUBBISH AND DREAMS: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble,” which surveys the work of the late performance artist, who is best known for his work questioning the boundaries of the gender binary. Both artists were active in New York throughout the 1970s.
“These two artists, most of their work has never seen the light of day,” Casals said. “In both of the exhibitions, visitors will see two very different realities of members of the LGBTQ community happening at the same time in the same city—one is the struggle for lesbian visibility and recognition of LGBTQ civil rights movement in the ’70s and the other is SoHo as a center for artistic experimentations and how Varble and so many other gay artists have contributed to that.”
“We’re expanding the knowledge understanding of our own community and our contributions to this city, to culture, to history,” Casals added.