by: Sali Ann Kriegsman
Thank you, Libby. And thank you, Rebecca, for inviting me
to the Symposium and for spearheading this effort. Though I haven’t been active
in this aspect of the field for some time, I thought I could shed some light on
previous efforts to broaden access to moving images of dance, efforts I have
been involved with over many years.
This is by no means a comprehensive survey of projects
undertaken nation-wide. There are many more individuals and organizations
whose critical work has informed and led us to this moment.
Almost fifty years ago, in 1970, my husband, Alan M. Kriegsman, and I co-authored an article titled “The Unstudied Art” in Cultural Affairs Journal. We asked: “How is it that educated men and women can be conversant with the plastic arts, music, drama, and literature, yet grossly ignorant of dance?”
We saw an urgent need for revolutionary advances in notation and
recording techniques and noted that an American Film Institute was just founded
in response to “a growing sense of need for a national organization devoted to
the art of film.” (I was working at AFI at the time). And we said that
“the benefits that could accrue from a comparable center for the preservation,
study, and dissemination of dance should be obvious.”
In the early 1980’s, as dance consultant for the Smithsonian, I
curated a series of public programs that included Merce Cunningham speaking
about and showing his innovative videodance investigations, Ernie Smith,
private collector of rare tap and Lindy footage, showing film clips of Bill
Robinson at the National Portrait Gallery, and live performances of veteran tap
artists along with the film “No Maps on My Taps.”
During the 1980s and 1990s at burgeoning tap festivals, artists
and a few interested parties (myself included) would stay up all night in a
hotel room binging on grainy videos of tap artists. When technology
democratized and could be held in our hands, tap artists were among the first
to glom on, to trade and share clips of legendary and contemporary dancers —it
was how they learned the history of their art, alongside living tap elders
telling their stories–and it spurred a new generation’s creative work.
At the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dance Program’s
dance/film/video category supported a wide range of creative and documentation
projects, and collaboratively with the Media Arts program, funded TV broadcast
series such as “Alive from Off-Center” and “Dance in America.”
In 1990, “Images of American Dance: Documenting and
Preserving a Cultural Heritage” was published. This report, based on a
study co-sponsored by the NEA’s Dance Program and the Andrew E. Mellon
Foundation, surveyed for the first time the existing system of dance
documentation and preservation nation-wide, how transactions were conducted
within the system, and to what extent the needs of the dance community were
Our focus was on users, and the need to equip artistic and
archival communities in their efforts to build, strengthen and extend dance
documentation and preservation efforts at the local, regional and national
levels in order to assure that the legacy of dance would endure.
Among the study’s conclusions most relevant to our symposium is
“‘Access’” has become everyone’s byword—for the artists who
create the work and records of it, for the repositories that house those
records, and for scholars and others who want to use those materials.
….Video cameras and computers have raised everyone’s expectations of what
should be available on demand…”
It identified among barriers to easy access, “the incomplete
records of what collections exist and what is in them, the conflict between
some needs of archive users and the limitations on physical property rights and
intellectual rights, and the tension between the need for ‘hands-on” use and
long-term preservation concerns.”
And it concluded: “Outreach, education and broad public access
to the field’s rich and varied traditions are essential if dance is to overcome
its persistent marginalization among the framework of America’s artistic and
The study spurred the creation in 1992 of the Dance Heritage
Coalition which, in its first decade, made major strides cataloging and
coordinating efforts among its principal member archives and collections and
accomplished much much more in the years that followed. Another result
was the Pew Charitable Trust’s funding of the National Initiative to Preserve
America’s Dance (NIPAD) 1993-2000, and in 1998-2000, the UCLA National
Dance/Media Leadership Project.
When I left the Arts Endowment in 1995 for Jacob’s Pillow,
Norton Owen and I made the Pillow’s archives and the potential of its holdings
a priority. It was through the Pillow’s unique setting and mission that I could
clearly see the rich connections to be made between practice, performance,
making work, preservation, and access to dance’s live and recorded history.
In 2001, Dr. Alberta Arthurs former Director for Arts and
Humanities at Rockefeller Foundation, met with me to discuss the challenge of
providing access to moving images of dance. By then collections had
become better known and accessible for study and new streaming technologies
showed great potential. But access to these materials was limited to the
physical premises of the holders.
Dr. Arthurs secured a one-year grant from the Mellon Foundation
to explore issues involved in building a “Digital Dance Library”
The proposal to the Mellon Foundation grew out of the need,
acknowledged by the dance field, for an accessible collection of full-length
recordings of historically and aesthetically important works of American dance.
Although such images were essential for scholarship and teaching, they were not
available in a way that encouraged discovery and learning.
The Digital Dance Library Planning project went “live” from
March 2002-June 2003. It was designed to find out whether it could be
possible, using digital technology, to stream moving images of dance in a
curated, organized, protected, technically accessible system, to the
educational institutions, teachers, students and practitioners who need them.
Not only, we proposed, might a Digital Dance Library advance
dance literacy but it could greatly enrich scholarship and learning in the
humanities and other disciplines where dance has largely been absent, and it
could fuel and inspire artistic development and creativity.
The project was, I believe, the first, to bring artistic,
technological, intellectual property legal and business sectors together to
study needs, capacities and barriers.
The challenge of envisioning a streamed dance library was
undertaken by a team of researchers working from the Graduate Center of the
City University of New York. I was one of four principal investigators,
each working in an area of expertise relevant to the study. Dr. Arthurs led the
effort. The investigators (each of us directing a specialized sub-team or
group) were: Stephen Brier, co-director of the New Media Lab at the CUNY
Graduate Center, on technology; Andrew Taylor, director of the Bolz Center at
University of Wisconsin-Madison on the business model; Jane Ginsburg, faculty
director of Columbia University’s Lernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts
on intellectual property issues, and yours truly on artistic content.
The process was enriched and also complicated by the use of
specialist teams who knew little about each others’ specializations, and were
located at distances from each other. (This was before Skype). Much of what was
being studied had not been studied in this inclusive way before.
The team asked these questions, among others:
- What full-length
works could best be used to test the concept of a core library of American
dance? I should clarify that this first group was never meant to serve as a
canon. Of course, any selection of material will have deficiencies; I can go
into how the database of works was compiled later if anyone would like.
- Would libraries
purchase or license an inventory of moving images?
- Would dance professionals
contribute to a single streamed archive?
- What is the
potential for classroom use of such images?
- Could rights
holders, ranging from home video to Hollywood moviemakers, from costume
designers to dancers, be categorized and reached, and would they agree to
- Was technology available
to accommodate the demands of the project or would it need to be
- Could marketing
and sales systems be designed to promote sustainable operations of such a
Three techniques were particularly important: interviewing,
modeling and convening.
We each conducted interviews, whether surveys (with dance
scholars, with potential users) or interviews with individual experts
(particularly in the law and in technology). Because information and data were
located in so many closely held sub-fields, getting information directly and
individually turned out to be quite important.
Models were produced. Examples included: a model database
of essential dance materials, a template of legal concerns, descriptions and
analyses of information technology business models, the design and
demonstration of the actual digital delivery system. Whether in written
form, in charts or on spreadsheets, or were physically constructed – models
proved to be useful tools for communication from one area of expertise to
another, and they tended to make synergies, connections, and gaps easier to
In November 2002, the team brought together forty leading
professionals in the field at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City for a
daylong presentation and exchange of findings and ideas. A demonstration
showed the potential and possible features of such a library.
(After watching our demo, which used as examples moving images
from Jacob’s Pillow’s archives, an artist exclaimed how moving it was to see
her forbears, and said she’d want her work to be included if the project was a
Wrapping up our study, we prepared full reports on our process
and work and issues to be further explored. The Mellon Foundation
encouraged an application for a pilot phase in which we would build out and
test a full working model. Application was made. Unfortunately, Mellon did not support the next phase.
Today we see tremendous advances in technologies, robotics,
streaming, and the threshold possibilities of AI. Legal guidelines
regarding fair use have been thoughtfully laid out for testing more broadly.
These major challenges remained: where to house, develop
and maintain a sustainable, protected system; intellectual property rights,
access for and to whom.
The technology is here; privacy rights, ownership, fair use and
compensation are being fiercely debated in other sectors; dancers are creating
work using new technologies. But the lingering deficit of readily
accessible full-length recordings of dance remains a major challenge both for
the dance community and for the public.
I have a couple of broad questions I hope we can explore here:
- For and from whom can national
access be achieved?
- How broad or narrow are the
constituencies to be served?
- Where and how can such a system be
supported and sustained—financially and administratively?
Before I yield to my colleagues, I want to give a shout out to
the many individuals, organizations and efforts that I haven’t named here,
whose dedicated work has led us to this moment.