Andrew's Inn, a gay bar in Bellows Falls that was open from 1973 through 1984, is the subject of a new oral history project that features the voices and stories of people who worked at and went to the club.
The Andrew's Inn Oral History Project will hang at Next Stage Gallery in Putney through the month of June.
The show centers around six recent portraits of people who ran, supported or frequented the Andrew's Inn, and near each portrait is an iPod with recordings of the subject talking about the inn. Scattered around the gallery are historic newspaper clippings and archival photos from the inn.
The project covers an important period in the gay rights movement, when more and more people were coming out. During that time, the Andrew's Inn was a safe place to gather.
The bar was located in an old railroad hotel where people stayed overnight. It drew a pretty wild crowd, some of whom took the train in from Boston and New York, and things were not always smooth with some of the local residents.
Eva Mondon moved up to Vermont from Florida in 1969, and she says the attitude toward the LGBTQ community was very different in the northeast.
But still, there was plenty of ignorance and discrimination. Mondon says a lot of people were forced to hide their sexuality in the 1970s.
"Andrew's Inn was a refuge," Mondon says. "It was a safe house. And it was a place where we could go and have fun."
Mondon, one of the six voices included in the Andrew's Inn Oral History Project, says the gay community was at the forefront of the fight for civil rights and social justice in the '60s and '70s.
And Mondon says the show shines a light on the period and on the role a gay bar in a former New England mill town played in supporting activists in the area.
"People don't realize, but we as gays and lesbians, as we came out, we were some of the substantial and main movers of holding the community together," Mondon says. "We helped protect the church of the community. And in some ways Andrew's Inn was one of the churches of the community."
The creators of this show started talking about the gay radical social movement of the '70s and '80s while leading an oral history class at Marlboro College.
Green Mountain Crossroads Director HB Lozito says the collaborators didn't even know about the inn when they started their research. But as the story of the Andrew's Inn emerged, they wanted to follow it further.
"We did some dinners with what we were calling 'local radicals' for the course when we started this class, and people were seeing each other who hadn't seen each other in 40 years, and reconnecting again over the Andrew's Inn," says Lozito. "And that's when we could really see there was really something very important about this place. Still 40 years later people are crying and hugging and remembering things that happened here. We really need to look at that."
Vermont Performance Lab Director Sara Coffey says the recordings and portraits bring visibility to a movement that largely operated outside of the public view.
And Coffey says the show invites anyone in to think about the history of the Andrew's Inn and begin new conversations about the work that still needs to be done to make sure everyone's voice is heard.
"We're living in such divisive times, and we need to have more and more opportunities to bring people together," says Coffey. "So, this is a project that I hope is not just for the queer community, but it's for allies and all sorts of people. The idea is about bringing people together, through the arts, and hopefully that will have an impact on people, and help us builder stronger, healthier communities here in Vermont."