Public Humanities

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Media Coverage:

Inheritance Baltimore, 2021-present

Plaster is a team member of Inheritance Baltimore, a multi-year reparations program for humanities education and arts-based public engagement in black Baltimore. Through an investment in black history and the arts, it seeks to redirect a portion of the social and institutional capital that Johns Hopkins University has accumulated for more than a century in its defense of white intellectual and material interests in Baltimore. A collaboration between the Program in Racism, Immigration and Citizenship, the Center for Africana Studies’ Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts, and the Sheridan Libraries and Museums, this project regards the history, culture, arts, and expertise of black Baltimore as our treasured inheritance, and puts forth the arts and archival work as mechanisms for ameliorating deep historical wrongs. 

Director, The Peabody Ballroom Experience, Oct 2018-present

The Peabody Ballroom Experience is a collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and the queer and trans artists of color who make up Baltimore’s ballroom scene. The project cultivates an exchange of knowledge between JHU and ballroom, bringing together faculty, students, and ballroom leaders as partners in education. It approaches performance as a repository for history and knowledge, expanding what “public history” can look and feel like. Project components include film screenings, panel discussions, dance workshops, oral histories, a documentary film, and a culminating ball performance competition at the opulent George Peabody Library.

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Essays and Media Coverage:

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Media Coverage:

  • Oral histories available here

Director, San Francisco ACT UP Oral History Project, July 2017-July 2018

This project documented San Francisco’s AIDS direct action movement by recording oral histories with people who were involved in Enola Gay, the ARC/AIDS Vigil, AIDS Action Pledge, ACT UP/Golden Gate, Prevention Point, and ACT UP/San Francisco, a highly visible and influential group of militant AIDS activists associated with a national network of independent organizations that shared the name AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. ACT UP/San Francisco emerged from earlier AIDS direct-action efforts in the city starting in 1984; it remained active into the mid-1990s. Project outcomes included oral histories with more 40 ACT UP veterans; an exhibition at the GLBT History Museum; and a multimedia Internet presence.

Director, Vanguard Revisited, Jan. 2010-June 2011.

Plaster structured Vanguard Revisited as an imagined conversation between two cohorts of homeless and marginally housed youth activists in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district: one which in 1966 founded the seminal organization Vanguard and another which in 2011 “reconstituted” the organization around contemporary concerns. Instead of simply transmitting historical evidence to contemporary queer youth, he enlisted youth in documenting, interpreting, and performing the history of the Tenderloin in relation to their own lives—to enter into conversation with the Tenderloin’s history and to position themselves as part of a genealogical lineage. Project outcomes included a historical zine linking past and present; walking tours; street theater reenactments; intergenerational discussions; and a national speaking tour of homeless youth shelters.

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Essays and Media Coverage:

Director, Polk Street: Lives in Transition, Oct. 2007-Dec. 2009

Plaster drew on oral histories to intervene in debates about gentrification, homelessness, sex work, queer politics, and public safety in the highly polarized setting of gentrifying San Francisco. Project outcomes included historical narrative commissioned by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY; multimedia exhibit; professionally mediated neighborhood dialogues; oral history “listening parties” and other public events; hour-long radio documentary distributed nationally via NPR.

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Media Coverage:

  • Oral Histories Tell Polk Street’s Story,” San Francisco Chronicle, Aug 8, 2009.

  • “Profile in Ministry: Expanding the Definition of an LGBT Advocate,” Human Rights Campaign Newsletter, March 4, 2009.

  • “Polk Street Profiles,” KALW’s Crosscurrents radio program, Jun 24, 2009.

Oral History:

  • Polk Street Stories,” hour-long oral history piece distributed nationally via NPR’s HearingVoices, Jun. 21, 2010. Adapted for the stage and produced by Georgetown University’s Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society in 2013.

 

  • “Re-Interviewing the San Francisco Street Patrol,” audio piece commissioned by “OUT/LOOK & The Birth of The Queer: Today’s Artists and Writers Respond,” University of California Santa Cruz Arts Research Institute, Fall 2017.

 

  • Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn School of Inquiry Project, Jan. 2012-present. For three successive years, recorded “life histories” from roughly three hundred precocious six-year-olds.

  • LGBT Family Histories Project, Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities, Summer 2012. Conducted oral histories with leaders of the GLBT families movement in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

 

  • “Growing Home Community Garden,” Project Homeless Connect, San Francisco, 2011. Commissioned to create audio portraits of six homeless participants.

 

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Image caption: young adult in Plaster's Black Arts course interviews an elder at Baltimore's Arch Social Club