Since 2007, the Leon Levy Foundation has awarded about $22 million to more than 40 arts and humanities organizations to help them catalogue, preserve, digitize and provide access to letters, photos, meeting minutes, accounts and other treasures in their collections and their institutional records. Among the organizations that have received support are:
The American Museum of Natural History is cataloguing and devising finding aids for the scientific field books from the museum’s Whitney South Seas Expeditions (1921-41) and Archbold Expeditions to Papua New Guinea (1930s-70s), which brought back voluminous specimens for almost every scientific department at AMNH, and for the photographs in the Historic Halls Collection, which document the 80-plus ways the museum has presented its collections and wildlife dioramas over the decades.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music organized and catalogued more than 70,000 historical items and with them created the Leon Levy BAM Digital Archive, an online database. The contents—programs, videos, institutional correspondence with artists, photographs and other memorabilia—chronicle BAM’s illustrious history, stretching more than 150 years, of presenting adventurous artists.
The Brooklyn Historical Society used an initial grant to catalogue and digitize the letter, journals, legal records and other papers of the extended Lefferts Family, who over more than four centuries beginning in 1661 helped spur Brooklyn’s move from an agricultural land to a center. Many are presented in an online image gallery finding aid. A second grant is supporting the processing of the archives of Packer Collegiate, the well-known Brooklyn school for girls (for much of its history), which date to 1843.
Cooper Union Chanin School of Architecture is using its grant to continue a project, begun with federal support, to catalogue and digitize the student work of graduates including Elizabeth Diller, Toshiko Mori and many more. Taken together, the archives also document the school’s radical approach to teaching architecture, which embraces engagement with art, the humanities and engineering, and which has influenced pedagogy at other schools of architecture.
Frick Center for the History of Collecting was awarded a grant to support long-term fellowships for senior scholars who use the Frick Art Reference Library and other archival resources in research aligned with the mission of the Frick’s Center for the History of Collecting. Recent fellows include Nancy J. Scott, who researched works by J.M.W. Turner in American collections, and Barbara Caen, who is studying tapestry collecting during New York’s Gilded Age.
by Andrea Kane
The Institute for Advanced Study is home to the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center, which is collecting, processing and making accessible the papers of many distinguished scholars who have worked at IAS since its founding in 1930 as an independent academic institution. This institutional archive will allow the papers of the many luminaries to remain together.
The all-important papers of the directors and senior staff of the Metropolitan Museum, from its founding in 1870 to the 1990s—which tell the museum’s history—have been catalogued, indexed in finding aids and posted online. The institutional records of the museum’s Costume Institute from the 1940s to the 1990s were also processed.
Foundation grants have allowed the Morgan to upgrade the catalogue of its important collection of historic and literary manuscripts, including works by Gibbon, Newton, Darwin, Yeats and the Brontë sisters. These new records allow scholars to access portions of the collection that had previously been unknown, and have made possible exhibitions on Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others.
Most recently, the Modern was awarded grants to catalogue and digitize the records of the hundreds of exhibitions it has presented from its founding through 2000, from checklists to exhibition photographs, and make them all available online. Previous grants paid for the organization and creation of the records of MoMA PS1 and to help catalogue the archives of legendary dealer Paul Rosenberg.
With foundation support, the Conservancy created The Manhattan Sites Archives Project, which described and re-housed the holdings of the six sites in the city, digitizing about 1,400 images from the documents, maps and other items that date to 1641, and putting them online. Among them were letters showing the inner workings of the Continental Congress and a mourning scarf for Alexander Hamilton.
Leadership support from the Foundation enabled the Society, whose history, dating to 1804, is interwoven with the city’s and the country’s, enabled the cataloguing of the NYHS institutional archive. Among the items now accessible to the public are early 19th century maps, records from an initiative to excavate revolutionary period artifacts and a ticket to the funeral of J. Pierpont Morgan in 1913.
With materials dating to 1842, the New York Philharmonic’s rich and well-kept archives were digitized and described with Foundation support in one of the world’s most ambitious and comprehensive archival digitization programs. Printed programs, marked conducting scores, contracts, board meeting minutes, photographs and much more are now available all over the world in the Leon Levy Digital Archives.
Several grants have enabled Poets House—the most comprehensive poetry collection available to the public in open stacks anywhere in the US—to catalogue to current standards the literary journals, chapbooks and other materials in its collection; to create an institutional archive, including newly commissioned oral histories; and to digitize a selection of rare materials for posting online.
Before receiving a planning grant from the Foundation, Roundabout had no archive of its history. Several grants later, it has amassed, acquired and catalogued papers, costumes, production bibles, brochures, show posters, photos, and recordings, creating a comprehensive collection of its history; posted many items and finding aids online, and presented exhibitions of this theater history.
Two grants from the Foundation have enabled Sir John Soane’s Museum to continue cataloguing and digitizing the museum’s collection of drawings by Robert Adams, make them available to the public in an online catalogue, and to do the same for its collection of drawings by Soane himself. These collections are heavily used by architects and scholars.
With one grant, the historical records of the Global Conservation Program, the Ornithology Department, the three City Zoos and the Aquarium dating to the 1980s and stored on "legacy" media that are no longer in use were recovered and transferred to usable digital systems. An earlier grant paid for preservation and digitization of the scrapbooks of William T. Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo and a fierce advocate for wildlife.
The Leon Levy Archives and Catalogues Program has also given support to the Archaeological Institute of America, Archives of American Art, Center for Khmer Studies, Center for Jewish History, Hancock Shaker Village, House of the Redeemer, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Jewish Museum, Manhattan Theatre Club, Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, Municipal Arts Society, Museum of the City of New York, National Academy Museum and School, New York City Ballet, New York City Centre, New York City Opera, New York Public Library, Ping Chong and Company, Poetry Society of America, Printed Matter, School of the American Ballet, Shaker Museum and Library, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wilson Center and The Writers Room.