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Monday, September 5, 2011

Introducing The BAM Hamm Archives

The BAM Hamm Archives document the lives of leaders, thinkers and artists who embody American innovation and reflect social, political and cultural movements in the United States and abroad for the past 150 years. The archives contain approximately 3,000 linear feet of materials from 1857 to the present including newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, letterpress books, playbills and other promotional material, video, architectural plans, posters, administrative records, production elements, art and other materials that document the history of the institution. We also conduct oral histories such as The Harvey Lichtenstein Oral History Project. BAM is forward-thinking but connected to our past and we will blog about items from our amazing old-timey collections as well as the more contemporary work people are more familiar with. Of course we are open to any one who is interested in our collections.

Fire at the original BAM building on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights
We have lost substantial chunks of our collections twice. Once in 1903 to a fire that destroyed BAM's original building on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights and again in 1977 to a flood. In 1996 a fundraising campaign and an anniversary celebration unearthed Civil War-era documents stored in black garbage bags—not good.

The need for a formal BAM Archives was first identified in 1995 when a search for records, photographs and other materials revealed that items of historical value were scatted in various locations thought out BAM buildings and New York City and in serious danger of being lost forever. Construction at BAM in 1996 uncovered more forgotten boxes and in 1997 the Brooklyn Public Library gave the Archives materials dating back to the Civil War.

I have seen lots of power point presentations at archives conferences picturing messy file cabinets and scary mold. Check out the BAM Archives before and after shots of boxes containing playbills, programs :

Before: 2004 BAM Archives 16th floor in the
former Williamsburg Bank Building
After: Now, Playbills and Programs 1857-Present

In 2005 the collections were moved into the former Salvation Army Building currently under construction and known as the Fisher Building. A BAM committee is  reviewing plans for a new state-of-the art physical home for the BAM Hamm Archives Center funded by none other than Charles and Irene Hamm. Follow this link to listen to some of the oral history taken with Charles Hamm conducted by the very wonderful Brooklyn Historical Society.

Stay tuned—there will be lots to discover about the history of Brooklyn, social, political and cultural movements through the lens of the performing arts and the curatorial, educational and critical discourse that engages with that work.

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