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Jacob's Pillow Expands Physical And Online Archive

People touring the grounds of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts can now delve into the history of dance thanks to a recently completed expansion. But another project means people thousands of miles away can also catch a glimpse.While the grounds’ major draw is live performances such as the one heard here by New York Theatre Ballet, Jacob’s Pillow also serves as a repository of dance history. The 2015 season marks 20 years since public access to the organization’s collections was granted. Thousands of photographs and films dating to 1894 are housed in Blake’s Barn, which underwent an expansion that nearly tripled its public access and storage space.

“It’s not just the space people see but also the space that’s unseen because on the lower level of Blake’s Barn is our archival storage area,” explained Norton Owen, the Pillow's director of preservation.  “It’s all climate controlled. We have space for thousands of videos, films, photographs, documents and costumes. All kinds of things that are stored and then can be brought to people in the Reading Room where they can study them, enjoy them or view them.”

On average, 22,000 visitors attend talks and exhibitions in Blake’s Barn each summer, while events are held throughout the year. The expanded Reading Room features HD viewing screens and study areas amongst thousands of book-lined shelves. In tandem with the physical expansion, the company also relaunched its online archive called Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, according to director Ella Baff.

“The archive has thousands and thousands of videos from the very first days of Ted Shawn and his Men Dancers, the founder of Jacob’s Pillow, to performances that happened at the festival just days ago,” Baff said. “Amazing talks with artists. It’s revealing and really fun to watch all these astonishing performances.”

With an internet connection and the click of a mouse viewers can watch a 1938 performance by Ted Shawn at the Pillow, Merce Cunningham in 1955 or a 2009 tap dance by Jason Samuels Smith.

The online archive was unveiled in 2011. Since the relaunch, the company says the site has experienced a 168 percent increase in daily users – nearly 82 percent of whom are new to the site. In just over two weeks, more than 10,000 online visitors from around the world had experienced nearly 30,000 Jacob’s Pillow Dance events. Optimized for mobile devices, Owen says the website serves the dance historian and the casual viewer.

“It’s not just performances but also the whole rich context of what we present in talks, presentations, films and things that really contextual dance in a way that makes it more meaningful. It’s all of these things that we are able to do in this new space.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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