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NEH grant will digitize local dance archive

Posted: Mar 28, 2019

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University Libraries awarded $313,753 to digitize videos of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange


The University of Maryland Libraries will digitize videos documenting the works of a celebrated Maryland dance company thanks to a $313,753 grant announced today by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Founded in 1976, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, MD, gained international acclaim by producing more than 100 innovative dance or theater works and touring throughout the United States and abroad. The grant-funded project will digitize and make freely available online 1,329 videotape recordings of rehearsals and performances as well as 211 performance programs of this renowned local institution.

“NEH has been extremely generous to the University Libraries over the years by awarding grants critical to the growth of our digitization program,” says Interim Dean of Libraries Babak Hamidzadeh. “We’re grateful for their support and for their confidence in our expertise.”


 “We're grateful to the NEH for their support and for their confidence in our expertise.”


Liz Lerman, founder of her eponymous dance company, is a University of Maryland alumna, choreographer, performer, educator and visionary--and one of the first to incorporate advocacy in the creation of her works. She has, for example, empowered seniors and movement-impaired dancers, in part, by choreographing for her company’s adjunct troupe of senior dancers, Dancers of the Third Age. Throughout her career she has exerted important influence in the worlds of performance, arts-based community engagement, and cross-disciplinary collaboration, winning critical and scholarly attention.
In 2004 the Dance Exchange gave its archive to the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland Libraries. Library curators have a longstanding partnership with Lerman and the company.
“The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange records are an ideal example of a collection of a locally grown dance company that ascended to international recognition,” says Vincent Novara, Curator for Special Collections in Performing Arts at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library.  “We’re pleased to have this opportunity to widen the reach and access for scholars and fans of dance to these unique video documents of such innovative and thought-provoking works.”


The videos document all manner of activity as it pertains to Lerman's vision for dance: rehearsal process, footage of works in development, and performance documentation, as well as Critical Response Process exchanges, which showcase the pioneering four-step process devised by Lerman for giving and receiving feedback on any form of artistic work in progress.
Digitizing the recordings also preserves them: A previous pilot project to digitize 100 of the Lerman videotapes revealed that they were degrading. It is estimated that 15 percent of the tapes had audiotrack loss or severe audio distortion, which for performing arts content means that a considerable part of the performance is lost.

The University Libraries steward of a vast collection of digitized and born-digital content. Large-scale and long-running digitization projects have produced over 100 terabytes of digital content, demonstrating a commitment to large-scale digitization, particularly to preserve and make accessible audiovisual collections. The University Libraries have digitized more than 1.2 million images and text pages and 7,400 audiovisual hours since 2012.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States. The Endowment awards grants to top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent, external reviewers.

[photo: Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Archives, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University Libraries, University of Maryland]