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Friday, April 12, 2013

Accessing BAM’s Past: Cataloging Performing Artists for Better Browsing

by Sarah Gentile

Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, 1938

You may already know a lot about the iconic artists that make up BAM’s history. But what if you don’t know much about who you’re looking for? What if you want to look for dancers, but you don’t know their names? So much of the 150-year story of BAM comprises the work of thousands of different performers. These performers may have only graced the stage at BAM a few times, but if performers came to BAM, they were artists worth knowing.

While we work on the Leon Levy Foundation digitization grant at the archives, we are creating the structure that will help you discover more about BAM's performers over the years. We are using a variety of sources from the collected history in the archives to build a database—the framework of the public site. When we catalog each performance, we relate each performance to every person involved in the show. We refer to these people as entities and we tag them with the roles they had in each production. You’ll instantly know key information about each person—entity—in the database. It's a great way to learn more about the richness of BAM’s history, just by browsing.

For example, the archives has a program with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn in a striking cover pose. Out of curiosity, I searched for their names in the database. Just by looking at this program in context in the database, we learn that they danced together or solo at BAM nine times between 1911 and 1940.

When the digitization project is complete and the database is made available to the public, you can learn about artists you already know, such as Pina Bausch, in addition to those you don’t, simply by clicking on an artist’s name. That’s the power of the database, and why we’re working to make it accurate and accessible—to bring more of BAM’s history to you.

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