The Leon Levy Foundation Archives and Catalogues Program

The Foundation’s archives and catalogues program helps arts and humanities institutions care for and use the important contents of their archives and store rooms, with the ultimate goal of making them more available to historians, writers, film-makers, and other scholars. Among the organizations that have received support are:

The New York Philharmonic


The New York Philharmonic digitized about 1.3 million pages of material — marked scores, letters, programs, publications, and so on — from its Archives, making them available to scholars and the public over the Internet. The grant covers the “International Era,” from 1943 to 1970, and the materials became fully available in February, 2013 (here). This is the first phase of a long-range project to digitize almost the entire Philharmonic Archives. This project stemmed from an earlier Foundation grant to the Philharmonic, which supported the assessment of its entire eight million-item collection of paper materials that record the orchestra’s history since its founding in 1842.

Institute for Advanced Study


With the largest Leon Levy Archives Grant to date, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton has established the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center, which is collecting, processing and making accessible papers of many distinguished scholars who have worked there. Founded in 1930, IAS is an independent academic institution that is regarded as one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry; this institutional archive will allow the papers of its luminaries to remain together.

The New-York Historical Society


Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society was one of the city’s first civic institutions, but its institutional records–which tell so much about New York in its early days–have never been catalogued or made widely available to scholars and the public. Now, with a two-year grant from the Foundation, that treasure trove–documenting the Society’s formation, collecting activities, exhibitions, research, scholarly, social events and day-to-day activities–will be transformed into a publicly accessible research collection. .

The Morgan Library & Museum

1808 Letter By Jane Austen

Following a multi-year grant extended in 2007, The Morgan Library & Museum in 2012 was awarded a three-year grant to continue the upgrading of the catalogue of its important collection of historic and literary manuscripts, including works by Edward Gibbons, Charles Dickens,  Teddy Roosevelt, and the Bronte sisters. The new dramatically improved records and descriptions allow scholars to access portions of the collection that had previously been unknown, and have made possible such exhibitions as the wildly successful “Jane Austen: A Woman’s Wit” in 2009 and “Charles Dickens at 200” in 2011.

At left is a letter written in 1808 by Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra. In it, she says (among many other things) that she is not enjoying Walter Scott’s latest work, Marmion, an epic poem about a sixteenth-century battle between the English and the Scots, although she suspects she should be.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art


With a three-year grant awarded in 2012, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is cataloging and developing finding aids for the papers of its directors and senior staff from the 1870s to the 1990s as well as the institutional records of the museum’s Costume Institute from the 1940s to the 1990s. Both catalogues will eventually be posted online.

The top of a letter to the museum’s first president is at left.

The Museum of Modern Art


The Museum of Modern Art‘s archives are being supported by three grants from the Foundation. One helped pay for the processing of records from the legendary art dealer Paul Rosenberg, who moved to New York from Paris during World War II. Rosenberg handled major works by many of the great artists of the 20th Century, including Picasso, Matisse, Leger, and Braque.

The second grant allowed MoMA, for the first time, to organize and process the institutional records of P.S. 1, the alternative art space in Queens that has given breakthrough exhibitions to many contemporary artists. This award also supported MoMA’s efforts to undertake an oral history of P.S. 1. Read about some findings in those archives, about P.S. 1’s earliest days, on the MoMA blog.

And with a third grant, given in 2014, the Modern is processing the records from all of its exhibitions dating from 1929, the year the museum was founded, until 1990–making them widely available for the first time.

The New York City Ballet


A three-year grant will help the New York City Ballet preserve the original tapes of rehearsals and performances from the 1980s to the present: some 17,000 hours of moving images that show the ballets, dance aesthetic and artistic standards of George Ballanchine, Lincoln Kirstein, and Jerome Robbins, among others, and the work of dancers like Peter Martins, Suzanne Farrell and Jacques D’Amboise. The images will also be ditigitized and eventually made available to the public on the NYCB website.

National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy


After evaluating the status of archives held by five National Park Service sites in Manhattan, including Federal Hall, with one grant, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy is using a second Leon Levy Archives Grant to process these collections and make them accessible. The grant will also cover the costs of developing a web catalog and features, like Artifact of the Month, designed to stimulate interest and research in these historical collections. The temporary web portal, the Conservancy’s American History Archives, is live and regularly adding content.

At left is a detail from the deed to the home in Westmoreland Country, Virginia, purchased by George Washington’s grandfather in 1695. Washington was born there in 1732.

Center for Jewish History


With a three-year grant from the Foundation, the Center for Jewish History, the home of five preeminent Jewish institutions dedicated to history, culture, and art, catalogued some 1,200 linear feet of archives from many collections that document the lives of many Jews in America.

In spring, 2010, the Foundation gave another three-year award that will enable the Center to process thousands of linear feet of its archival collections, to create an institutional archive, and to formally assess the preservation needs of the collections. The grant will create the Shelby White & Leon Levy Archival Processing Laboratory as a dedicated space for this specialized work.

Among the Center’s treasures is the handwritten manuscript of Emma Lazarus’s renowned poem, “The New Colossus” (at left), which is part of the American Jewish Historical Society’s archives at CJH.


Brooklyn Academy of Music


With an initial three-year grant, the Brooklyn Academy of Music revitalized its institutional archives, starting with efforts to preserve, catalogue and upgrade storage of its historical documents. It is also searching for and acquiring documents that pre-date 1903, when BAM burnt to the ground. At left is a picture of Sarah Bernhardt performing in 1916, drawn from that archive.

In 2012, the Foundation made a four-year, $1-million grant to BAM that will enable it to catalogue and digitize key documents from the archives materials; create a state-of-the-art archival management system, and eventually provide access to the archives online in the Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive.