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Carnegie Hall Celebrates World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Call us AV nerds, but Carnegie Hall's Archives team—currently in the midst of a major project to digitize the Hall's extensive collections—is fired up to promote World Day for Audiovisual Heritage!

Established by UNESCO in 2005 to raise awareness of the need to protect and preserve audiovisual documents, archives around the world hold events on this day to showcase their collections. This year's theme is "Audiovisual Heritage Memory? The Clock is Ticking," emphasizing the urgency of safeguarding aging film, video, and audio materials of historic, cultural, and national significance.

According to the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives, a large percentage of the world's film, television, and audio recordings have been lost over time due to neglect, lack of funding, and decay. Nitrate films, manufactured with a highly flammable base, have gone up in flames ... literally. Lack of planning and the inability to store materials properly has resulted in deliberate disposal of film. And early videotape, large in size and expensive at the time, was taped over to save money. If AV collections were undervalued or couldn't be taken care of properly, they were deaccessioned and passed along to collectors or other collecting institutions. As materials disappear, our collective history becomes lost as well. Today, archives and historians are constantly striving to fill in the gaps, to locate missing pieces.

The first televised event at Carnegie Hall took place on December 10, 1949, when United Nations Human Rights Day was celebrated with an all-star line-up that included Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Laurence Olivier, Yehudi Menuhin, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Carnegie Hall's Archives owns a copy of the event program, as well as a rare group photograph of the previously mentioned foursome backstage. But to date, a copy of the televised event has not been found, if it even still exists.

Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Yehudi Menuhin backstage at the United Nations Human Rights Day celebration at Carnegie Hall on December 10, 1949. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

These sorts of little holes in Carnegie Hall's collective history are expected, given that the UN event predates the founding of the Archives by more than 35 years. Through research, today's Archives team continues to grow the Hall's collection, working to add and preserve new audiovisual items of historic significance whenever they are found.

Program for the United Nations Human Rights Day celebration at Carnegie Hall on December 10, 1949. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Through our Digital Archives Project, Carnegie Hall will soon be reformatting most of our existing audiovisual holdings with priority given to the oldest and most at-risk formats, such as 16" lacquer disks and acetate films from the 1950s. Highlights include a performance by renowned choral conductor Robert Shaw in 1946, an unreleased Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in 1951, and a documentary series by Academy Award–winning filmmaker Robert Snyder. Produced in 1953, these rarely seen black-and-white films feature performances by pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Michael Rabin, and mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel. As a complement to our paper collections, these recordings can provide a rich aural and visual representation, and context for performances at the Hall. By next year's World Day of Audiovisual Heritage, we hope to share samples of some of the content online.

Stay tuned!

Digital Archives Project
Carnegie Hall History

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