Carnegie Hall’s History Preserved in Theater Programs from 1891 to the Present


“Intertwined with American History:
Carnegie Hall History Preserved in Thousands of Theatre Programs

The Carnegie Hall Archives was established in 1986, in anticipation of the Hall’s 100th anniversary. “A formal decision was made to establish an archive with the goal to curate retrospective exhibitions and to document past, present, and future events,” says Gino Francesconi, Director of the Archives. The theatre programs formed the basis of the collection at the start, dating back to the first performance at the “Music Hall” on May 5, 1891 with a concert by Tchaikovsky.  “The theatre programs are unique snapshots of what was going on in the city culturally at the time,” comments Kathleen Sabogal, Assistant Director of the Archives.  “The advertising and the articles are as interesting as the performance listings.”

NEDCC began working with the Carnegie Hall Archives in 2009 with a Collection Condition Assessment prior to the Archives moving into a renovated space within the building.  Guided by recommendations identified in the assessment report, the Archives developed a programmatic approach to the preservation of the collections, including improvements in housing and storage conditions, environmental controls, security procedures, and emergency preparedness.  Since 2012, NEDCC has been treating and digitizing the theatre programs in batches, starting with 1891 and continuing to the present.

The programs were digitized in NEDCC’s Digital Imaging studios following conservation treatment.  While the image capture was largely straightforward, two factors did pose a challenge – the sheer number of pages in a given year’s programs, particularly in programs from more recent years, and the use of complex file naming protocols that facilitated the Archives’ ingest of the files into their repository, but which required rigorous attention to detail from the photographers working on the collection. In total, more than 325,000 program pages were digitized over the course of the project.  The high quality digital images will be available in fall 2018 when Carnegie Hall launches a beta Digital Collections site on the main Carnegie Hall website.  Currently, as part of the “Performance History Search” feature, information on more than 45,000 events can be accessed and searched in a number of ways including by composer, date, venue or genre.”

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