Mellon Foundation Grant to Support Digital Collection for Dance Heritage

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The Andrew W. Mellon FoundationThanks to a $560,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation under its Arts and Cultural Heritage program area, the USC Libraries and the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance will create a new home for a rich collection of recordings of more than 1,200 culturally significant dance performances digitized at hubs in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., over 15 years by the Dance Heritage Coalition.

The collection spans dance genres from classical Indian forms like Bharatanatyam to butoh, hip hop, postmodern, tap, and movement traditions from cultures around the world. Featuring artists such as Camille A. Brown, Ze’eva Cohen, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joe Goode Performance Group, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Glen Tetley, and Urban Bush Women as well as performances for the New England Folk Festival Association and the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, the digital resource captures many facets of U.S. and global dance heritage.

With Mellon Foundation support, the USC Libraries and the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance will embark on an ambitious new phase of development for the collection in collaboration with Dance/USA, which is integrating the preservation programs of the Dance Heritage Coalition. The multiyear effort will leverage the USC Libraries’ unique strengths in digital collections and digital preservation of cultural heritage materials and the vibrant, experimental culture of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, as exemplified by its motto, “The New Movement.”    

“I’m grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting this landmark cultural and technological collaboration between the USC Libraries and the Kaufman School,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries. “The Dance Heritage Coalition’s collection embodies an extraordinarily diverse set of creative traditions. And thanks to the Mellon Foundation, we’re able to bring this new digital resource to a global audience of students, scholars, and creative artists.”

“The USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance is thrilled to be working with USC Libraries and Dance/USA on the preservation of such a prolific and important collection,” said Jodie Gates, vice dean and director of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. “Researching and providing access to the archives is critical, while honoring dance artists and preserving our dance lineage will be impactful for future generations.”

The Mellon Foundation grant will support the migration of the digital collection created by the Dance Heritage Coalition to the USC Digital Library and Digital Public Library of America and its long-term preservation using the advanced systems of the USC Digital Repository. In addition, the grant will support an intensive planning effort for the future of the digital resource and the digitization of 800 new recordings of performances by pivotal L.A.-area dance artists and dance companies. 

“Dance Heritage Coalition is deeply grateful to the Mellon Foundation, whose support enabled the development of this unique resource,” said Imogen Smith, the former executive director of the Dance Heritage Coalition who now heads up the archiving and preservation programs at Dance/USA. “We are thrilled that the collection will find a home at USC, which can provide outstanding stewardship and, most importantly, will ensure that the collection is widely visible and extensively used to enrich the dance community.” 

“We are thrilled that this digital dance collection, originally created by Dance Heritage Coalition, will be preserved and expanded in the years to come,” commented Amy Fitterer, executive director of Dance/USA. “The USC Libraries and the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance are well positioned to maintain this impressive collection, ensuring the preservation of numerous artistic works for years to come.”

The digital collection will be a living resource that grows to include new recordings of important dance performances and integrates them into classroom teaching and student- and faculty-led performances at the USC Kaufman School of Dance and other leading dance schools. It will continue to address significant needs faced by the dance heritage and preservation community and open exciting possibilities for dance education and digital humanities projects that explore global movement traditions. 

As the Dance Heritage Coalition documented in its field surveys, hundreds of thousands of hours of unique recordings of dance performances and rehearsals are at risk on rapidly degrading media such as VHS, U-matic, and Beta videotapes. This record of the world’s movement heritage is in danger of being lost, and it is effectively invisible, since it requires obsolete and difficult-to-maintain equipment for playback. Yet there is an urgent need in dance education for accessible, full-length recordings of performances that capture the nuances of specific movement traditions and the unique expressions given to them by individual dance artists.

Thanks to Mellon Foundation support, USC will make a significant impact in these important areas. The launch of the new initiative comes at an opportune time in the university’s history, with the launch of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and the USC Libraries’ Collections Convergence Initiative, in which dance, film, and other performing arts represent a key area of collection development and scholarship.