With exhibits from hammers to bananas to puppets to teddy bears, museums stand in nearly every city in every state across the United States. In today’s society, though, online museums are becoming a more accessible option.
Chris Vargas, assistant professor for the College of Performing Arts, decided to make a museum of his own, based online. The vision for his virtual museum exists from a combination of hard work and taking a nontraditional path in life, leading him to become the Executive Director of the Museum of Transgender History & Art, he said.
“I needed a title for myself,” Vargas said. “I figured the highest title in a museum is ‘Executive Director’ so I just gave it to myself.”
Vargas, was recently awarded by Creative Capital, an organization that supports artists and their projects through funding, counsel and career development services, according to their website. Creative Capital grants a maximum of $50,000 over time, which is dependent on the artist and the projects they are involved in. Barbara Hammer, an established film artist and past recipient of this award from Creative Capital, is one of Vargas’ many inspirations, he said.
Creative Capital granted Vargas an initial sum of money for his art project that will ultimately become a book or catalog of the same name as the exhibit: “Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects,” and could receive continual support from Creative Capital.
“Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects” is a series of exhibitions investigating archival objects that narrate transgender history, Vargas said. The collection contains various pieces of original artwork, as well as other archival pieces, to showcase how transgender history influences current transgender culture, according to the website.
He calls MOTHA a “fake museum” since currently it is not a physical location, and he has no desire for it to be. The idea of the museum is provocation, thinking critically about transgender visual history and what compiling such a history would look like, Vargas said in an email.
Greg Youmas, partner of Vargas and also a fellow Western professor working in English and film studies, was one of the people who got to see Vargas’ reaction when he found out he received the award.
“He was thrilled,” Youmas said. “It’s a really prestigious award, so it’s a game-changer career wise.”
Having collaborated with Vargas on past artistic projects, Youmas has been able to pick up on Vargas’ unique style that makes him stand out.
“He’s very playful and exploratory,” Youmas said. “He has a DIY aesthetic. [He does] sharp, intelligent work informed by queer history and politics.”
Vargas, who waited five years after graduating high school before starting college, began his journey to where is he is today at Los Angeles Community College before attending University of California Santa Cruz. Taking time to work and discover his passion for film and digital media led him to where he is today, he said. He advises art students to do things they love, he said.
“There is a lot of interesting artwork related to archives,” Vargas said. “I’m interested in transgender history and thinking about how this history can be archived.”
Kate Sechrist, a fifth year studio art major at Western is advised by Vargas through a program for fifth year art students to become professional practicing artists. Through occasional pep talks and all around support, Vargas has helped inspire Sechrist to pursue a specific direction with her artwork, she said.
“The concept that I’m working with is dealing with queer identity,” Sechrist said. “Having Chris as support to that part has been incredibly inspiring and really supportive.”
The fact that he has this prestigious award now proves you really can make it, Sechrist said.
Vargas’ next step is working on a new exhibition related to the collection in Miami in April, called the World Erotic Art Museum, with plenty of other traveling opportunities ahead of him with monthly traveling for his art.