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Brooklyn Academy of Music Digitizes 70,000 Objects Spanning 150 Years of Performance

The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new digital archive features playbills, photographs, videos, audio, and ephemera from a century and a half of theatrical history.

Portrait of Ruth Saint-Denis, a copy of which is in the BAM Archives (1920) (via Library of Congress/Wikimedia)

From an 1869 advertisement for a lecture by Frederick Douglass, to production photographs of the 2012 revival of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach, the Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive contains more than 70,000 items chronicling over 150 years of theatrical history at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The online platform for the BAM Hamm Archives was launched last month, including collections of postersplaybills, building photographs, and audio and video recordings.

Ticket for the General Ulysses S. Grant memorial service (1885) (courtesy BAM Archives)

As the New York Times reported, the debut of the archive followed years of development, and a $1 million grant from the Leon Levy Foundation (which also supported the digital collection of the New York Philharmonic). It has an easy-to-navigate interface, where users can search by production, going back to the 1860s, and by people and organizations, from Air to John Zorn. The initial featured collections include highlights from the archive, material related to choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the Next Wave FestivalPeter Brook’s nine-hour epic The Mahabharata, and performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

As BAM regularly hosts international companies and local artists at its complex of theaters in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the material presented by the archive is diverse. You can watch a 1973 excerpt from Robert Wilson’s The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin, or read an ad for the 1913 lecture by Helen Keller (with support from her teacher Anne E. Sullivan). There’s also a great history of the visual arts in BAM’s productions, such as 1970 photographs of Isamu Noguchi’s sets for Martha Graham Dance Company’s Appalachian Spring. Other images show Robert Rauschenberg and Donald Judd’s 1980s collaborations with the Trisha Brown Company, and the hand-painted backdrop by Salvador Dali showcased in the 2016 La Verità circus from Compagnia Finzi Pasca. A collaboration between Keith Haring and Bill T. Jones — the 1984 Secret Pastures — involved sets, promo cards, and stickers by Haring. BAM states that the archives are “currently housed in Crown Heights, with plans to relocate to a state-of-the-art facility on the BAM campus in 2018,” with the digitization offering new accessibility to researchers and the public.

Illustration of the Brooklyn and Long Island Sanitary Fair at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (1864) (courtesy BAM Archives)
Detail from Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences Bulletin advertising Sarah Bernhardt “in repertoire” during the 1916 fall season (courtesy BAM Archives)

Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive is available online through the Brooklyn Academy of Music. 

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