By VICKY J. RISNER
In the last 15 years, the Library of Congress has become increasingly involved in documenting the efforts of innovators in the field of dance and collecting dance-related materials. Among these are the Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon Collection, the Lester Horton Dance Theatre Collection, the Erick Hawkins Archives and the Martha Graham Collection. A grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is allowing the Library to provide important leadership in supporting the Katherine Dunham legacy and to preserve an important dance collection based on her work.
In December 2000, the Library's Music Division was awarded a grant for $1 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to undertake the Katherine Dunham Legacy Project. The purpose of the project was to purchase the Katherine Dunham archives; preserve materials that document and augment the Dunham legacy; expand educational programs; and to provide support for the Dunham Centers in East St. Louis, Ill. Many of the project's goals have already been realized, and exciting new treasures are being discovered almost daily in the collection as work continues on several fronts.
The Katherine Dunham Collection has been created at the Library of Congress through the purchase of significant portions of Dunham's archives housed at the Katherine Dunham Centers in East St. Louis, Ill. The final shipment of materials from East St. Louis arrived at the Library in mid-June, and preservation reformatting on the rare videotapes and films is already underway. With the acquisition of this collection, the Library has become a premiere source of information on Dunham's legacy—a legacy that encompasses choreographic works, technique and teaching, performance and production, anthropological analysis of the dance and ritual of the African diaspora, global activism and leadership in human rights, and advocacy in the local African American community.
Gathering these materials into an international repository and making them accessible will greatly facilitate research on Dunham and the significance of her work. Many of these materials were in danger of being lost through damage and deterioration. Funding for the much-needed preservation of the costume and audio-visual materials was provided to the Dunham Centers through the Dance Heritage Coalition as part of its "Save America's Treasures" project with matching funds from the Library's Duke grant.
The preservation effort includes documentation of the Dunham technique, using the latest digital video technology. The documentation project design builds on the groundbreaking processes and models that were developed and used by the Library during the recently completed Martha Graham legacy project. Terry Carter, a well-known documentary filmmaker whose work includes "A Duke Named Ellington" produced for the PBS series "American Masters," was selected as the Dunham documentary's producer/director. (This author served as executive producer.) Most of the taping took place last fall in New York City, and the video has been in production since that time. Dunham has been consulting on the technique project and will oversee additional filming and final editing later this year.
The video documentary will be used as primary source material for a Dunham Web site to be created by the Library of Congress. The Web site will place portions of the Dunham Collection online, as well as several previously unpublished articles about her work. Such a site will increase the study and appreciation of Dunham's major contributions to American art and culture. To further advance scholarship about Dunham, the Dunham Legacy Project, in partnership with the Society of Dance History Scholars, is supporting the publication of a new edition of the Dunham anthology, "Kaiso," edited by noted Dunham scholar Vé Vé Clark.
Another goal of the project—support for the Dunham Centers in East St. Louis—has been addressed by providing funding for core activities of the Dunham Centers for Arts and Culture, including the Dunham Dynamic Museum, the Institute for Intercultural Communication and the Katherine Dunham Museum's Children's Workshop. This year the grant also provided nearly $100,000 for salaries and $50,000 for artists and teachers for a summer technique seminar held July 6-21 in East St. Louis.
The Dunham Legacy Project will continue through next year, during which time the video documentary will be completed, the Web site will be launched and the collection will be cataloged and preserved.
Vicky J. Risner is the dance specialist in the Music Division.