Carnegie Hall established its first archives in 1986. Since no formal repository existed prior to that time, the majority of Carnegie Hall’s documented history had disappeared. What did remain was scattered throughout the building with no organization or protection. Original musical autographs and musicians’ photos signed “To Carnegie Hall” hung without security along highly trafficked corridors. The priority became to collect, acquire, house, and secure any material that would document Carnegie Hall’s history: the theaters and events, its past tenants, and the overall building.
Memos were sent organization-wide to announce the formalization of an archives and a records management program. Appeals for Carnegie Hall–related material were made to collectors, musicians, and the public at large through the media and by advertising. Items soon began arriving from all over the world. One magazine article alone resulted in more than 15,000 pieces sent from all over the United States. Visits to flea markets, antique shows, and collectors became weekly routine.
A software program was purchased in 1988 to begin documenting every event in each of the three theaters. Random entries on a temporary basis led to an employee dedicated full-time to this task. To date, more than 51,000 events have been catalogued. It has become the foundation of Carnegie Hall’s collective events history and will become the cornerstone of its online presence. The donation of one of Benny Goodman’s clarinets by his daughters led to a $1.5 million gift from the Susan and Elihu Rose Foundation to create the Rose Museum, which opened in April 1991 as part of Carnegie Hall’s 100th anniversary celebration. The Rose Museum, located adjacent to the Blavatnik Family First Tier level of Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, showcases items from the Carnegie Hall Archives in addition to presenting exhibitions of loaned materials.
In 2012, the Carnegie Hall Archives embarked on an exciting new chapter with the start of its Digital Archives Project, a multi-year initiative that will preserve and digitize most of the Hall’s historic collections with the goal of making a substantial amount of material available online to the public. Many of Carnegie Hall’s archival materials—including photographs, program books, flyers, posters, correspondence, and recordings—are currently available only on paper or in media formats that are likely to become obsolete. This project will ensure that the Hall’s legacy is preserved for future generations while also providing ways to capture new materials developed by Carnegie Hall in support of its artistic and educational programs.