New York University’s Fales Library, which houses the Downtown Collection documenting avant-garde New York art since 1975, has acquired the archives of the Gay Cable Network, one of the largest and most important LGBT media collections in existence.
The Gay Cable Network (GCN), under the direction of Lou Maletta, the gay media pioneer, began in 1982 and stopped production in 2001. The first network in the nation to regularly provide information about the burgeoning AIDS crisis, GCN eventually accumulated tens of thousands of hours of original footage, ranging from a comment Dick Cheney made on gay unions at the 1984 Republican convention when he was a Wyoming congressman, to the first ACT-UP demonstrations. Other footage includes the first Gay March on Washington, City Hall meetings over the Gay Rights Bill, interviews with the first executives of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the founding of the LGBT Center on West 13th Street in Manhattan, and Gay Pride parades and rallies.
The GCN collection acquired by Fales consists of more than 6,100 hours of footage. It was first brought to the attention of Fales director Marvin J. Taylor by Allen Zwickler, NYU alumnus and co-director of the Phil Zwickler Foundation, which helped defray the cost of transferring the collection to Fales. According to Zwickler, the GCN collection is one of the most important civil rights archives of our time and was in danger of being lost. The Zwickler Foundation is named after Allen’s brother, an artist who died of AIDS in 1991.
“This is a major preservation challenge,” said Taylor of the collection. “But it’s one we are ready to meet. NYU Libraries is a leader in moving image preservation, and NYU has one of the most important gender studies programs in the country. GCN had the most significant media program for the queer community during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and we are committed to preserving this history, so integrally related to New York City.” The GCN Archives compliment Fales’ Downtown New York collection, which documents the arts scenes from the 1970s to 1990s, a world that was decimated by the AIDS epidemic.
“I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this acquisition is to me and those of my students who work in contemporary U.S. sexuality studies,” said Phillip Brian Harper, Erich Maria Professor of Literature, professor of social and cultural analysis, and chair of the Department of English at NYU. “The increasingly ephemeral character of much of the public discourse in this arena makes it very difficult for scholars in the field to construct manageable working archives on which to focus their analyses, and the GCN materials go a very long way toward addressing this problem.”
While NYU has made a commitment to preserving the collection, it will take many years to reformat the tapes. Plans are underway to seek outside funding sources to help preserve the collection.