The New York University Division of Libraries has been awarded a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to assist in the preservation of unique video materials held in its Downtown Collection. The Downtown Collection, which documents the explosion of artistic experimentation that took place in SoHo and the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1970s and 1980s, is housed in the university’s Fales Collection.

The NEA grant supports a project that will evaluate, catalog and preserve videotapes from a collection of 1,240 unique videos of dance, theatre, artists’ interviews, poetry and fiction readings, and performance art in New York City’s downtown scene. Collections to be addressed in the one-year project include:

  • The Bob Holman Collection of performance poetry and other spoken word performance;
  • The Laura Foreman Papers of tapes of video art and postmodern dance;
  • The Mark Amitin Papers of experimental theatre performances - Amitin was the promoter/producer for such groups as the Living Theater and the Bread and Puppet Theater;
  • The Judson Memorial Church Archive, documenting dance performances;
  • The Fashion Moda Archive, containing taped interviews with nearly every leading artist of the SoHo/East Village scene.

According to Marvin Taylor, head of the Fales Collection, the long-term goal of this project is to make the videos in the Downtown Collection accessible to scholars, educators, curators, historians and writers. At present, the videos are not catalogued, and users cannot access them, although finding aids exist for the archival collections. Also many of the videos are single copies of unique materials, which are endangered due to age, condition and format or equipment obsolescence. This project will seek to preserve this material.

The project will draw from the expertise available in the new program in Moving Image Archiving and Preservation, which is being launched this fall in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Department of Cinema Studies. The two-year course of study will train future professionals to manage preservation-level collections of film, video, new media, and other types of digital works.

The Fales Collection in NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library is especially renowned for its Downtown Collection, the only one of its kind at a major university. Included in the collection are the papers of such writers and artists as David Wojarowicz, Dennis Cooper, Tim Dlugos, Ron Kolm, John Watts and many others. Fales is also the home to NYU Libraries’ special collections.

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