Three Reasons Why the Leon Levy Foundation's Digitization Grant to the NY Philharmonic is Important

Philanthropic organizations frequently award grants with the sole intention of boosting digitization efforts at recipient nonprofits. Take academia, for example. Countless universities have received millions for digitization efforts from large funders like the Gates and the Mellon Foundation. But it isn't very often that the recipient of an ambitious, multi-million dollar digitization grant is a performing arts organization. In this case, the recipient in question is the New York Philharmonic, and what they plan do to with the money is even more intriguing.  

First, let's look at basics. The New York Philharmonic has received a $2.4 million grant from the Leon Levy Foundation to complete the digitization of its extensive archives, beginning with its founding in 1842 through the present day. The grant builds on previous funding from the Leon Levy Foundation — now totaling $5 million since 2007 — which funded the digitization of the 1.3 million pages currently available. Pretty impressive stuff.

Once again, the fact that a philanthropic organization is funding digitization efforts at a music organization is, relatively speaking, rare. It's not unprecedented, of course, but a majority of these grants generally go, not surprisingly, to academic and research organizations. At the same time,  most arts-based nonprofits naturally seek out funding for performance, programming, administrative-based activities, as well as general support. Archival digitization is generally low on the list.

But there are two additional reasons why we find this grant particularly interesting. A deeper analysis of the foundation's press release reveals that in addition to funding the nuts-and-bolts digitization work, the grant will also support "technological enhancements to the Digital Archives such as the development of a mobile-friendly framework." This is no small feat, as many digitization projects become stymied by the fact that researchers now prefer to access the information on mobile devices rather than traditional PCs and workstations.

Lastly, while archivists hope to digitize material from as far back as 1842, the work will be ongoing. Equipped with a scalable and "mobile-friendly" digitization infrastructure, archivists can now digitize Philharmonic materials in real-time. To quote Philharmonic archivist and historian Barbara Haws, "Scholars in 2064 will be able to study Philharmonic documents being created today, allowing an evaluation and celebration of a continuous run of history far into the future."

The Levy Foundation's grant to the New York Philharmonic is part of its Archives and Catalogues Program, which is also moving grants to a number of institutions, mainly in the New York area. The one other performing arts grantee is the New York City Ballet, which aims to preserve and digitalize rehearsals and performances over the past quarter century.