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Collection Selections from the Katherine Dunham Collection

Collecting a Career: The Katherine Dunham Legacy Project

Dunham posing in costume and looking over her shoulder
Katherine Dunham in "Tropical Revue" (1943), at New York's Martin Beck Theatre; Valenti, Alfredo, photographer.

In the last fifteen 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. 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 Katherine Dunham Centers in East Saint Louis, Ill.

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 Dunham Centers in East Saint Louis. 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. In addition, the grant has assisted the Dunham Centers for Arts and Culture in East Saint Louis by increasing core activities for the Dunham Dynamic Museum, the Institute for Intercultural Communication, and the Katherine Dunham Museum's Children's Workshop. The grant also provided funds for a summer technique seminar held in 2003 in East Saint Louis.

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!: An Anthology of Writings by and about Katherine Dunham, which is scheduled to be published in 2006.

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, and Vicky J. Risner served as executive producer. Most of the taping took place in the fall of 2002 in New York City. Dunham has been consulting on the technique project and will oversee additional filming and final editing.

The grant to support the Katherine Dunham Legacy Project is the second the Library has received from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Foundation gave the Library a $1 million grant as a "Gift to the Nation" in honor of the Library's Bicentennial in 2000 to purchase the Martha Graham archives, support performances of the Martha Graham Dance Company and document Graham works.

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

Three people riding camels with two men on foot in front of the Great Pyramid and Sphinx

The Library of Congress Katherine Dunham Legacy Project is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Doris Duke, a lifelong philanthropist, distributed some $400 million, often anonymously, to a variety of charitable causes. When she died in 1993, she left her fortune, including her properties, to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The mission of the Foundation, which was established in 1996, is to improve the quality of people's lives by nurturing the arts, protecting and restoring the environment, seeking cures for diseases, and helping to protect children from abuse and neglect. With approximately $1.4 billion in assets, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is among the largest philanthropies in the United States. As of December 31, 2001, the Foundation had awarded more than $386 million in grants. Additional information can be found on the Foundation's Web site at External.

Caption for image: A 1949 photograph of Katherine Dunham, Doris Duke, and Porfirio Rubirosa in Egypt; courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.