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UTSA to add Gene Elder's journals to LGBT archives
QSanAntonio, August 1, 2014

The University of Texas at San Antonio will soon add the journals of artist and activist Gene Elder to its UTSA Libraries Special Collections which has a section dedicated to local gay history.

"The UTSA Libraries Special Collections has LGBTQ materials as one of the repository's top collecting priorities. Gene Elder's journals will be a wonderful addition to our growing LGBTQ collections. Gene captures unique facets of San Antonio's history through his journals that provide insight into the evolution of the city's queer community as well as that of its art scene," says Melissa Gohlke of UTSA Special Collections.

Elder's journals date back to 1973 when he was manager and part owner with Arthur "Hap" Veltman of the San Antonio Country, a popular gay disco at the time. In 1984, Elder was crowned Cornyation's King Anchovy presiding over the Court of Wretched Excess.

"The journals are really as much about the art community and gay concerns in San Antonio as about my thoughts on these matters. My writings are interspersed with collages of art notices and pictures," says Elder.

Today, Elder is the archivist for the Happy Foundation which is headquartered in a large room at the back of the Bonham Exchange. (See related story link below.)

“The goal is to save the history of the community and create a resource facility so that people doing research can find information on who and what we were, and what we did to change the world,” Elder told QSanAntonio.

"I am glad to have lived in San Antonio during this time and I can't believe that I was able to keep these journals and not lose them over the years. I feel like I had a front row seat in the eye of the hurricane, and I enjoyed every minute of it."

Following are vignettes from Elder's journals that he shared with QSanAntonio.

Fairies Fiasco
Art events and gay civil rights were so interwoven in my life. I have had a great time looking back over all this. The journals pretty much start with the documentation of Fairies Fiasco, the camp ballet that I wrote as a protest to all the military harassment we endured being a gay disco in 1973. We performed it for three nights in March 1974. It is about the 12 seasonal fairies that reside along the San Antonio River and their queen and her daughter.

Elder for Mayor
In 1979 I ran for Mayor of San Antonio on the Party Party Ticket. This was the bright idea of Anne Alexander, Margie Shackelford and Alex Caragonne and a needed protest about the lack of art funding from the city, that didn't see the need to promote or support the arts. Anne's Charlton Gallery served as headquarters for fundraisers. Needless to say The Express News and The Light had great fun with our campaign and we got full support on the political page and in the art section. The fact that I was a known and open homo was hardly mentioned at all.

AIDS comes to San Antonio
With the 80s came the AIDies. The art world came out full force nationally during that decade as the problem grew into a tsunami of fresh hatred for the gay community. New York was giving the world Angels in America and ACT-UP. But what was San Antonio doing?

Time Capsule
In 1984 I curated the Time Capsule for the San Antonio Museum of Art to be opened in 2181. Gilbert Denman requested that date since he became my mentor for the project, the bicentennial of SAMA his reason.

The Time Capsule contains art works from 100 living artists, like Kathy Vargas, Marilyn Lanfear, Adan Hernandez Larry Graeber, Bill Bristow Anne Curtis, Bettie Ward and poems from10 poets, such as Berkeley Smith, and numerous pamphlets, invitations and books to document the community at that period in SA's art history. Margaret Stanley provided a terrific photograph of her presenting Martha Graham with a San Antonio Society for the Performing Arts Award. The art community in 2181 will have a great time with this buried treasure box. I am so glad I did that. I can't believe I did do it!

Art and the Blue Star
Blue Star would begin in 1986 and Arthur Veltman requested that I be the property manger. So there was a lot to collect during those years too. Davis Sprinkle, David Freeman John Dyer, the blue collar gallery with Holly Moe and Gary Schafter were artists I met then. Jeffrey Moore the Blue Star director headed up a great new era of art awareness for SA. Blue Star was a really great experience at the beginning.

Also, during that time, I curated two exhibits, Artist As Administrator and Power To The Pulp. Power To The Pulp was inspired after my years of working and teaching in the papermaking studio at the Southwest School of Art and Craft. I invited 30 artists who had never worked in paper to create a new work. The exhibit was at the Locus gallery at the Blue Star. Some of those artists were Anita Valencia, David Casas, Henry Stein, Mike Pogue, Suzanne Paquette.

In1989. Glenna Park curated the LOADED exhibit at Blue Star and I painted on 4 American flags. This was an interesting experience since it was during the time of national flag burning debates and whether the National Endowment for the Arts should be giving any money to gay and lesbian artists. You can imagine what that was like. And what was said. Patriotism was a hot topic.

March on Washington
In October 1987, Hap Veltman, Kenneth Garrett, Wade Strauch and I attended the Gay March in Washington D.C. And I did get arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court in a civil disobedience demonstration with many other queers from around the United States. A quote I love, that was shouted by all at the police wearing plastic medical gloves as we shook our figures, "Your gloves don't match your boots!" As we stepped onto the Supreme Court steps we were arrested and taken to jail.

The death of Hap Veltman
When Arthur "Happy" Veltman died of AIDS on Dec 3, 1988 the HAPPY Foundation archives was started and collecting GayBLT history in files became even more efficient than journals. I consider this my really most important art project.

The Happy Foundation’s quest to save a bit of LGBT history
QSanAntonio, May 17, 2006
It’s down a long narrow hallway, far away from the dance floors and video screens of the Bonham Exchange’s public areas. The room is filled, floor to ceiling, with file cabinets, old display cases, and boxes of magazines, newspapers and miscellaneous memorabilia. This is the home of the Happy Foundation, a fledgling non-profit and San Antonio’s LGBT archive.

Remembering Hap Veltman
QSanAntonio, July 20, 2013
This past June 23 would have been Arthur P. (Hap) Veltman, Jr.'s 77th birthday. Veltman, an openly gay man, was a downtown real-estate developer, restaurant and nightlife entrepreneur, an arts advocate, and historical conservationist.

Gene Elder and Political Art Month
San Antonio Current, April 13, 2010
I had brunch on Sunday with Gene Elder, artist, activist, and Director of the HAPPY Foundation LGBT historical archives. We talked about the first Political Art Month, this July, which Gene initially conceptualized when San Antonio's Contemporary Art Month was movedfrom July to March.

Gene Elder Is Persona Non Grata at San Antonio City Hall
The Advocate, July 23, 2012
A gay rights activist has been barred from emailing San Antonio city officials after he inundated them with everything from development complaints to suggestions for sensitivity training to movie recommendations. Gene Elder doesn't own a computer, instead sending missives through his neighbor's computer or computers at churches or universities.