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October 21, 2014

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Q+A: LAURA HENKEL:

Unashamed to explore eros

Museum gives people ‘permission to be themselves’

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Leila Navidi

Laura Henkel, curator of the Erotic Heritage Museum, says when the museum opened a year ago people weren’t sure what to make of it.

Erotic Heritage Philosophy

When the Erotic Heritage Museum first opened, curator Laura Henkel gave an on-camera tour and talked about her philosophy regarding erotic art.

Beyond the Sun

The Erotic Heritage Museum opened on Industrial Road in Las Vegas a year ago. Created by its curator Laura Henkel as her dissertation, the nonprofit museum is owned by the Exodus Trust, the parent organization for the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, where Henkel received doctorates in human sexuality and in erotology.

Why preserve erotic heritage?

From a theological and anthropological perspective we must value the spirit of truth and historical process. Sexologists and researchers can study what people do, but fear keeps many people from expressing how they feel about what they do, and so we must count on the arts for valid expressions concerning the pleasures and meanings of sex in people’s lives.

Describe the community’s response.

At first people were unsure of what we were and why we were here, and the museum needed to show its value. Once people understand what it is about, they want to participate and help with the mission. They realize what a tremendous resource we are for the community — academically and in terms of freedom of expression and providing support for the community. We give people permission to be themselves in a nonjudgmental environment.

There was talk about partnering with UNLV for academic credit and study. Has that happened?

The state of Nevada’s accrediting agency refused to visit the museum or meet with us because the graduate program in California is not accredited by a regional accrediting body and because the graduate school refuses to take federal money or any other money that restricts our academic freedom through the Helms Amendment. On the other hand, the people from UNLV have been very helpful and supportive.

What are the sources of new acquisitions?

Private donors and from the archives of the Exodus Trust. We have been offered a collection from the Chinese government to display. I have received offers from international museums looking to present their restricted archives.

There is not enough money coming into the museum to pay for all of the materials that should be there. Funds to pay for insurance, transportation and staffing must be available before we can become a first-class international museum. Our next phase is to generate financial support through memberships and fundraisers. Our anniversary exhibition, “Sex on the Streets,” sells works by international and local contemporary artists. The proceeds are split between the nonprofit organization and the artists.

Will you ever include literature — Anais Nin or D.H. Lawrence, for example?

The trust’s literary reference system and libraries consist of 3 million items. This is the best and the most comprehensive erotological library in the world. We are trying to make it available through the museum to students and scholars. The trust spends $100,000 a year simply for storage at 25 locations. It takes at least 10 archivists and graduate students just to keep track of what is available and what needs to be saved. As soon as possible, two libraries will be moved to the museum.

What about political influence on sexuality?

It has been a 40-year battle just to gather the material and protect it. Now we are involved in finding a way to make it usable to help people see that sex education through the arts provides sexual freedom and a spiritual movement. Every fascist government knows that if you can control people’s sex lives, you can control them absolutely.

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