150 years of BAM!

The Brooklyn cultural center opens its archives to celebrate a milestone anniversary.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives Center

    Sanitary Fair Stamps

    Sanitary Fair stamps, 1864
    During the Civil War, BAM held a Sanitary Fair to raise funds to buy medicine and bandages for the Union army. "It raised $400,000, which was a really big amount of money then," explains Lehner. One of the more popular items sold were "these incredibly rare and beautiful stamps," she continues. "All of the proceeds from these stamps went to the Sanitary Commission. People would come [to the fair] and post letters to one another in the neighborhood."

  • Photograph: BAM Hamm Archives Center

    Fire at BAM

    Footage of BAM's original building burning down, 1903
    On November 30, the stage at BAM's original Brooklyn Heights location caught fire, completely destroying the structure. BAM staffers searched extensively for documentation chronicling the disaster. "We finally found this very rare film in the Library of Congress," says Lehner. "We'll display [the footage] of the actual burning of [BAM's first] building. They're not 100 percent sure what caused it. They say it was a spark, and it just burned down very quickly---within hours."

  • Photograph: John Lindquist

    Ted Shawn

    Photographs and footage of Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers, 1934
    The exhibits will also feature video recordings of performers who frequented Fort Greene, such as Ted Shawn, an early-20th-century modern-dance icon. Lehner and her colleagues borrowed footage of Shawn's performances, shot at his Jacob's Pillow dance center in Massachusetts. The clips will be on display along with programs and photographs from his show at BAM in 1934.

  • Photograph: Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives Center

    Einstein on the Beach

    Promotional View-Master for Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, 1984
    Historically, BAM created quirky, ephemeral art to promote its onstage offerings. One example was a View-Master created for composer Philip Glass and director Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach. Attendees could click through the toy to see 3-D images of the production. "We have all kinds of crazy swag that we're going to display," Lehner says.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Martha Swope

    Meryl Streep

    Photographs of stars onstage, 1970s--2000s
    Over the years, BAM has hosted acting heavy hitters on its stages. "We'll have pictures of Meryl Streep very early on, when she was working onstage [with Christopher Lloyd in a 1977 production of Happy End]," says Lehner. "We will have Morgan Freeman, during a performance that he did here in 1983; we will have early pictures of Ian McKellen, when he was here in the '70s."

Photograph: Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives Center

Sanitary Fair Stamps

Sanitary Fair stamps, 1864
During the Civil War, BAM held a Sanitary Fair to raise funds to buy medicine and bandages for the Union army. "It raised $400,000, which was a really big amount of money then," explains Lehner. One of the more popular items sold were "these incredibly rare and beautiful stamps," she continues. "All of the proceeds from these stamps went to the Sanitary Commission. People would come [to the fair] and post letters to one another in the neighborhood."

When the Brooklyn Academy of Music kicked off its inaugural 1861--1862 season, the venue offered residents of the borough—then the third largest U.S. city—top-tier cultural happenings without having to trek to Manhattan's theaters. Aside from performances, the institution, which originally resided in Brooklyn Heights, hosted "everything from social dances to lectures to political events," says Sharon Lehner, director of the BAM Hamm Archives. Nowadays, BAM attracts gaggles of Manhattanites to Fort Greene for big-ticket draws like Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, currently performing the titular role in Shakespeare's Richard III (through Mar 4), and once-reclusive indie-rock hero Jeff Mangum (Jan 19--21). To celebrate its storied past, the institution has searched through its archives to create a rotating exhibit examining two time periods: 1861 to 1967 (Sun 15--Apr 15) and 1967 to today (May 1--Sept 2). We chatted with Lehner about the cultural force's collection of rare films, photos, promotional knickknacks and artifacts on display for its sesquicentennial.


SEE IT NOW! "From Brooklyn to the World: A History of BAM," BAM Peter Jay Sharp Building lobby, 30 Lafayette Ave between Ashland Pl and St. Felix St, Fort Greene, Brooklyn (bam.org). Mon--Sat noon--11pm, Sun 1--11pm; free. Sun 15--Sept 2.

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