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Las Vegas’ Erotic Heritage Museum will reopen — with a new look

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The Erotic Heritage Museum, which has been shuttered since February, is scheduled to reopen as a for-profit venture on June 7.
Photo: Steve Marcus

In February, the nonprofit Erotic Heritage Museum closed after property owner Harry Mohney served the operators with an eviction notice over unpaid rent. But next month, the museum will reopen with a new look and as a for-profit venture, although its mission will remain the same, according to new director Victoria Hartmann.

Most of the original museum’s contents are gone. Ted McIlvenna, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Advanced Study of Sexuality, who opened the museum in 2008, shipped most of them back to San Francisco. But now that the museum is for-profit, it has more resources and can include more exhibits than ever before, says Hartmann, a clinical sexologist who Mohney, owner of the Déjà Vu strip club empire, hired as director in April.

The grand opening is scheduled for June 7, and here’s what patrons can expect:

• Exhibits detailing the sexual hypocrisy in politics, religion, education and entertainment. “We will have three monitors that are going to be showing anyone who claims an authority over another, and it’s found out that they’re doing the very things they’re condemning others for.” In addition, the exhibits will feature a “wall of shame” for political and religious scandals. “It’s a long, loooong list” of people, Hartmann says.

• The museum’s academic section is being expanded. “My background is in academics and research, and Harry’s been very gracious in letting me indulge in that,” Hartmann says. She’s invited various scholars to contribute, and has already secured an agreement from Dr. Justin Lehmiller, author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality, to put together an exhibit. There will also be an exhibit called The Biology of Genitals, research into female insects that have male genitalia and vice versa. “It’s the evolution of how genitalia is formed.” Another exhibit, Unusual Sex Practices, will rotate every month and delve into “the more unusual sexual variations of the human species.” Hartmann’s particularly excited about the Revolutionaries of Sex exhibit, a catalog of the individuals who made a profound difference in our sexual freedoms (Hustler publisher Larry Flynt has contributed film footage for that exhibit). There will be a “walk of fame” around that exhibit.

• Pieces from the Hartman & Fifthian Collection, including penis bones. “Those are bones that can be found in various mammals—some of them have bones in their penises,” Hartmann says.

• There will be some exhibits on loan from the old trust, but Hartmann could not be specific. “We’re still finishing that list and finalizing contracts.”

Ted McIlvenna says he is still very bitter over the way things ended with the museum—he claims his family spent $395,000 on the museum, which they never recouped—but says his trust decided to loan the museum 800 pieces for 16 exhibits for the next three years, a decision he came to based on what he calls the “overwhelming” response from the community after the museum had closed. “We were very surprised at the response from the people of Las Vegas,” McIlvenna says. “In the entire time we were there we never heard any response. I would say it’s the key factor in our decision.”

Ultimately, McIlvenna says the continued preservation of our sexual heritage takes precedence over any personal differences he has with Mohney. "It's more important for the history and the culture of Las Vegas to have it there."

But new exhibits aren’t the only changes to the space. Hartmann says the museum is undergoing a significant remodeling, including the lobby area. “Harry Mohney wants to put two significant exhibits into the lobby area, which means a reduction in the retail space.” While the retail space will be downsized, Hartmann promises unique products for sale. “For example, House O’Chicks is going to create custom vulva puppets for our museum.”

Hartmann, who interned for the museum shortly after it opened, promises an experience similar to the previous museum, adding she would not have taken the job otherwise. “One of the things I really loved about the museum was that it was sex positive and open and accepting, and anyone could come in and share about themselves, and they knew they were not going to be judged. And that is an environment I want to maintain.”

She also wants to pay tribute to volunteer Mercedes Zavala, who passed away last November. “She was instrumental in creating that environment.” On a monitor at the museum’s entrance, Hartmann will be playing one of Mercedes' tours. “It’s just a fabulous tour she gave.”

In addition, Mohney wants to continue to be a community partner, and the museum will be holding charity drives for survivors of sexual assault and breast cancer research, as well as organizations that assist women who have been victims of female genital mutilation.

“This should be a fun, gentle, giving place where everyone is welcome. And it’s going to be entertaining as well,” Hartmann says.

McIlvenna has some advice for the museum’s new crew: “They have an obligation and an opportunity to learn about the rich heritage of the past, like many have going to the museum. Try the best they can to keep it classy and not turn it into a smut museum.”

Erotic Heritage Museum Scheduled to open June 7. Daily, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., $10 for seniors and military, $15 for members, $30 general.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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