The PERFORMING ARTS LEGACY PROJECT is an online platform to document and represent professionals’ careers of in the performing arts and entertainment, created by the Research Center for Arts and Culture (RCAC) at The Actors Fund (AF). There is no one place that we know of where they can present their lifetime careers holistically and under their control.
Its mission is to identify and document the work of older professional artists in the US and save our national legacy.
While The PERFORMING ARTS LEGACY PROJECT is a tool targeted to older professionals, it can also be used for professionals all along the spectrum of their careers, to document their work as it evolves.
In 2005, the RCAC (founded at Columbia University’s School of the Arts in 1985), released seminal research on older visual artists in NYC age 62+ and in 2011, it did the same for professional performing artists 62+ in LA and NYC using a groundbreaking methodology derived from the social sciences (Respondent-driven sampling) which added a level of rigor to the collection of artist information. ABOVE GROUND gave rise to a six-year project, ART CART: SAVING THE LEGACY, in New York City and Washington DC that matched older visual artists with student fellows from eight universities from the arts, health, and aging to document their work, conduct oral histories, create a continuity plan, first at Columbia, and then at the National Center for Creative Aging. Culminating exhibitions in both cities shared the project with the public.
In 2015, the RCAC joined The Actors Fund to create the same kind of vehicle for older performers, starting with actors, with the intention of replicability and sustainability. From our research, STILL KICKING, we learned that older performers want to pass on their legacies by mentoring and working with younger people. As with ART CART, we learned the value of intergenerational, interdisciplinary, experiential learning. In 2016-17 we recruited ten older professional NYC-based actors, five young actors to conduct 30 oral histories with them, and ten fellows in theatre, arts, health and aging to partner with them. We offered a course that covered stereotypes of aging, lifelong learning, working with chronic illness, and an actor-fellow team mapped the actors’ legacies on a grid, and identified objects for future documentation, as well as links to venues, performances, videos, audios and related material. Annually, we recruit additional cohorts of professionals to work at The Actors Fund, expanding beyond actors to composers, playwrights, dancers, stage managers, lighting and costume designers, etc.
We created three advisory boards – of older and younger performers, a legal and a technical advisory board, and collaborated with the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Older Adults Technology Services, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, Columbia University, NYU and CUNY.
This site is a model that can be shared more widely for other professionals to engage in the same kinds of research, documentation and sharing as our continuing cohorts.