Prestigious museums filled with "do not touch" signs may not seem like fertile flirting grounds. But last week, with help from local LGBT activists the Welcoming Committee, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum bridged the gap between "historical landmark" and "sexy party."
A well-dressed twentysomething sipped bottled beer at a crowded art table in the museum's education studio. Others cut up maps and magazines, making postcards for a "Sender Unknown" mail-art activity — which started a bit like a swingers' party.
Participants wrote their names and addresses on paper scraps, dropped them in a bowl, grabbed a new one, and used a colorful cache of craft supplies to make postcards for their selected strangers. By 8 pm, that twentysomething's face was covered with a rainbow of stickers.
"It's like gay kindergarten," says Ashley Lucas, community manager for the Welcoming Committee, a fun-loving group working to unite Boston's LGBT community and launch queer takeovers of often-unsuspecting venues and events. Before slipping her postcard into the studio's mailbox, Lucas added TWC's bright-green logo — a shield with spears and a pineapple.
Last May, Harvard Business School grad Daniel Heller founded the Welcoming Committee as "the parent" of Guerilla Queer Bar — a group born in San Francisco that has coordinated gay takeovers of straight bars for more than a decade and spread to cities across the country.
In June, TWC orchestrated their first non-bar takeover at a Red Sox game; in August, they mobilized with CrossFit and turned Tequila Rain into a gym for the night. Lucas says the Gardner reached out to TWC, inviting a takeover as part of ongoing efforts to draw young patrons. It's the first time they've targeted a museum, but Lucas says TWC sold 265 tickets for the takeover of the Gardner's monthly After Hours series.
TWC's website describes GQB as an activity and TWC as a movement, but the latter is also an event and travel startup with global goals for LGBT takeovers and a newly updated smartphone app that functions much like Foursquare, allowing users to launch their own spontaneous takeovers, find events nearby, and check in once they arrive.
In November, TWC had their first destination takeover at Foxwoods — conveniently timed with a Kathy Griffin show. Lucas says so many TWC members tweeted at Griffin on the bus ride down that she dedicated part of her show to them.
"[Under normal circumstances,] I'm not going to go to Cancun and hit on a girl," Lucas says, explaining that one of TWC's goals is giving members a chance to enjoy experiences they might have missed or felt uncomfortable about in the past. They've only held two destination takeovers so far, the casino trip and an outing to Mount Snow. But TWC has globetrotting intentions. "Spring break in Cancun, or bachelor party in Vegas," Lucas says. "The goal is to be able to do really iconic things."
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