Brooklyn Academy of Music Puts Online 70,000 Objects Documenting the History of the Performing Arts: Download Playbills, Posters & More

Yes­ter­day the sad news broke that The Vil­lage Voice will dis­con­tin­ue its print edi­tion. Co-found­ed by Nor­man Mail­er in 1955 and pro­vid­ing New York­ers with savvy music writ­ing, raunchy advice columns, juicy exposés, reviews, enter­tain­ment list­ings, apart­ments, jobs, band mem­bers, ter­ri­ble room­mates, and pret­ty much any­thing else one might desire every week for over half a cen­tu­ry, the paper will be missed. Though it won’t dis­ap­pear online, the loss of the street-lev­el copy in its com­fort­ing­ly famil­iar red plas­tic box marks the abrupt end of an era. Those of us inclined to mourn its pass­ing can take some solace in the fact that so many of the city’s key cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions still per­sist.

Promi­nent among them, Brooklyn’s Acad­e­my of Music, or BAM, has been at it since 1861, when it began as the home of the Phil­har­mon­ic Soci­ety of Brook­lyn. It has inhab­it­ed its present Beaux Arts build­ing in Fort Greene since 1908. In its 150 years as a per­for­mance space for opera, clas­si­cal, avant-garde the­ater, dance, and music, and film, BAM has amassed quite a col­lec­tion of mem­o­ra­bil­ia. This year, on its cen­tu­ry-and-a-half anniver­sary, it has made 70,000 of those arti­facts avail­able to the pub­lic in its Leon Levy Dig­i­tal Archive. Like future issues of the Voice, you can­not hold these in your hand, unless you hap­pen to be one of the museum’s cura­tors. But “researchers—or any­one else inter­est­ed,” writes The New York Times, “can cre­ate per­son­al­ized col­lec­tions based on spe­cif­ic artists, com­pa­nies or eras.”

The his­to­ry rep­re­sent­ed here is vast and deep, by a young country’s stan­dards. “Every pres­i­den­tial can­di­date made cam­paign stops there before there was tele­vi­sion,” says for­mer BAM pres­i­dent Karen Brooks Hop­kins. “Mary Todd Lin­coln was in the audi­ence dur­ing the open­ing week of fes­tiv­i­ties. Then you have [Rudolph] Nuryev mak­ing his first per­for­mance in the West just after he defects, [Martha] Gra­ham per­form­ing her last per­for­mance on stage….” These land­mark moments notwith­stand­ing, BAM has earned a rep­u­ta­tion as a home for avant-garde per­for­mance art, and the col­lec­tion cer­tain­ly reflects that dimen­sion among the 40,000 artists rep­re­sent­ed.

We have fur­ther up the post­card Kei­th Har­ing designed for a 1984 Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane piece called Secret Pas­tures (Har­ing also designed the sets). We have the poster above for a 1981 per­for­mance of Philip Glass’ Satya­gra­ha, his opera based on the life of Gand­hi. And below, a poster for the 1983 world pre­mier of Lau­rie Anderson’s Unit­ed States: Parts I‑IV. These objects come from BAM’s Next Wave Fes­ti­val col­lec­tion, which con­tains many thou­sands of pho­tographs, play­bills, and posters from the space’s more exper­i­men­tal side, many, though not all of them, down­load­able.

Between the Civ­il War mem­o­ra­bil­ia and mod­ernist doc­u­ments, you’ll find all sorts of fas­ci­nat­ing ephemera: pho­tos of a very young Meryl Streep and Christo­pher Lloyd in a 1977 pro­duc­tion of Hap­py End at the Chelsea The­ater dur­ing a BAM Spring Series, or of an old­er Patrick Stew­art in a 2008 Mac­beth. Just below, we have a charm­ing play­ing card fea­tur­ing the Brook­lyn Acad­e­my of Music’s Peter Jay Sharp build­ing in 1909, the year after it was built. It’s an impos­ing struc­ture that seems like it might last for­ev­er, though much of the vibrant cre­ative work fea­tured year after year at BAM may some­day also move entire­ly into dig­i­tal spaces. Enter the com­plete BAM dig­i­tal archive here.

via The New York Times/Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The The­ater Dic­tio­nary: A Free Video Guide to The­atre Lin­go

A Min­i­mal Glimpse of Philip Glass

Google Gives You a 360° View of the Per­form­ing Arts, From the Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny to the Paris Opera Bal­let

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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