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Q&A with Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of New-York Historical Society

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of New-York Historical Society

THIRTEEN recently spoke with Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of New-York Historical Society, which is highlighted in the third episode of Treasures of New York, airing this Thursday, December 15 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN. The program also airs on Monday, December 19 at 10 p.m. on NJTV and Tuesday, December 20 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21.

Here, Ms. Mirrer discusses the society’s transformation, from its beginnings over 200 years ago to the innovative modern space that it is today, and explains what sets New-York Historical Society apart as a genuine treasure of New York.

Enter to win passes to New-York Historical Society, and learn more about upcoming events at the society on NYC ARTS.

Can you discuss how New-York Historical Society has transformed over the years — particularly how the recent renovation has opened the space up to new visitors and more interactive exhibits?

The New-York Historical Society has re-imagined its landmark building as an engaging and enjoyable space where visitors can learn about the ideals of freedom and equality on which our nation was founded, while understanding that it would take many years and a civil war before these ideals were fully realized.

As I walk through the dazzling, new spaces of our landmark building, past clusters of children looking for clues to the past in our brand-new DiMenna Children’s History Museum, and electronically turning the pages of nineteenth-century children’s books in our Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, I think back over 207 years of institutional history and am amazed at the changes that have taken place since a small group of historically-minded citizens gathered at New York’s old City Hall on November 20, 1804 to found the New-York Historical Society, which became New York’s first museum.

We have reintroduced ourselves to the public as New York’s home for American history, where treasures and resources are available to people of all ages who engage in and enjoy the stories of the past told by our more than ten million objects, paintings, documents, photographs, books and maps, now magically enhanced by the power of new technologies.

Why did New-York Historical Society decide to keep the hyphen in its name?

The placement of a hyphen between “New” and York” was common usage during our founding in 1804. Even as this custom began to abate in the decades that followed, hyphens were routinely maintained on title pages of books and mastheads of newspapers into the 1840s, while The New York Times held on to its hyphen until 1896. The organization used and has retained the hyphenated version of the city’s name that was common at the time. In vigilantly fighting for its hyphen, The New-York Historical Society highlights the continuity of its role in the cultural and educational life of the city.

What materials in the New-York Historical Society’s collection do you think best represent New York and its rich history?

Our collections represent American history through the lens of New York. The New-York Historical Society holds a vast collection of objects and images that encompass the long history and diverse artistic voices of New York’s population. The Museum holds nearly five hundred of John James Audubon’s watercolors, one of the nation’s preeminent collections of Hudson River School landscapes, and decorative arts holdings that include rare and iconic examples of Tiffany lamps. Many of these are on view in our new Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. They range in time from an Indian arrowhead from 1500-1650 that was excavated at Revolutionary War barracks to the ceiling from Keith Haring’s Pop Shop, which opened in SoHo in 1986.

What makes New-York Historical Society so different from other institutions and museums with American History collections?

N-YHS Conservator Alan Balicki digitizing the Lansing Notebooks. (Photo by Michael Pruitt-Bruun)

Our goal is to make history matter. We change the people who come to us, whether they’re schoolchildren or scholars, by giving them fresh, profound, meaningful connections to the past. We help our visitors make sense of the changes happening in their own times, by illuminating the processes of change that ran through earlier eras. Our collections allow us to serve in this way.

We have one of the great libraries of the world, with holdings such as John Lansing’s Constitutional Convention Notebooks as well as other documents related to the founding of the country. These documents enrich our knowledge of the debates and compromises that helped forge the foundational document of the United States. To remind you, John Lansing, Jr. served as a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention. His detailed notes from the convention, taken surreptitiously, are on view here for the public to see.

What do you think makes New-York Historical Society a treasure of New York?

The New-York Historical Society really epitomizes the American dream and all the possibilities that the New World has offered from the earliest times to the present. This is evidenced in our public programs, our exhibitions and our education initiatives.

Our vibrant Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series improves our ability to confront the challenges of today. We have featured such luminaries as Clyde Haberman, E.L. Doctorow, James O. Horton, Toni Morrison, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, former Mayor Ed Koch, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Walter Isaacson, Gloria Steinem, Josiah Bunting III, Niall Ferguson and many, many others.

Our new DiMenna Children’s History Museum is certainly a treasure. We have created a resource unlike any other. Here our youngest visitors can discover their connection to the past, and the thrill of discovery is at the heart of the practice of history.

Our new installations in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History  shows the city as central to the American struggle for freedom and equality from the start, beginning with New Amsterdam’s respect for religious difference and continuing through to the present day, with the United Nations headquarters, for example.

New York Story, our panoramic orientation film narrated by native New Yorker Liev Schreiber, gives you this history in eighteen minutes. This is a treasure every New Yorker and tourist should see.

What does the future hold for New-York Historical Society?

Everything we do here—our exhibitions, installations, public programs—shows history as exciting, dynamic and consequential to our present.  What we want to convey to our visitors going forward is that we are an institution which seeks to engage our visitors in difficult, complex and sometimes unresolved issues, provoking them to think differently about the past.

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The New-York Historical Society Preview

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Treasures of New York: The New-York Historical Society details the history and mission of one of the nation’s foremost research libraries and the transformation of New York’s first museum. Airs December 15 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN and Tuesday, December 20 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21.

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Park Avenue Armory

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Park Avenue Armory has reinvented itself into a visionary multimedia arts institution renowned worldwide. From the sublime installation of Ryoji Ikeda to the epic productions of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Armory transcends both artists’ and audiences’ experiences and expectations. For the first time on film, WNET takes public television viewers inside this American landmark to discover its storied past and revolutionary future.

Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Morley Safer (60 Minutes) serves as presenter. Featured interviewees include Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of Park Avenue Armory; Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Pritzker Prize-winning design architects, Samuel White, architect and great grandson of Stanford White, one of the original designers; and Philip Glass, whose music will be celebrated at the Armory’s Tune-In Music Festival in 2012.

Park Avenue Armory was built by the New York State’s prestigious Seventh Regiment of the National Guard. Members included New York’s most prominent Gilded Age families including the Roosevelts and Vanderbilts, among others. The Armory is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar revitalization. Treasures examines the painstaking restoration of two of the 18 period rooms as well as a look at the celebrated 19th-century rooms designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White.

The documentary showcases the Armory’s recent exhibitions including the critically acclaimed the transfinite by Ryoji Ikeda, the outsized reimagining of Leonardo’s Last Supper by Peter Greenaway, and rehearsals of one of the artist-in-residence, Shen Wei Dance Arts. The program goes behind the scenes at the performances of the Royal Shakespeare Company and treats viewers to time-lapse footage of the building and deconstructing of a full-scale Shakespearean theater inside the 50,000 square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall.

Aaron Young motorcycle footage:
Film Directed by Kai Regan
Cinematographer and Lighting Designer: Carlos Veron
Produced by All Day Everday

Major support for Treasures of New York: Park Avenue Armory is provided by The Thompson Family Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and the Metropolitan Media Fund.

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Park Avenue Armory Preview

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Treasures of New York looks at the history, restoration, and renovation of one of New York’s hidden jewels from a bygone era. This documentary explores how the once endangered, crumbling, Park Avenue Armory is being transformed into an alternative cultural arts space for New York City. Presented by Morley Safer.

Major support for Treasures of New York: Park Avenue Armory is provided by The Thompson Family Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and the Metropolitan Media Fund.

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Q&A with Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of the Park Avenue Armory

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Company D at the Park Avenue Armory (Photo by James Ewing)

THIRTEEN recently spoke with Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of the Park Avenue Armory, which is profiled in the second installment of Treasures of New York, airing Thursday, October 27 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN. Here, Robertson discusses the armory’s rich artistic programming, as well as what makes the armory one of the most valuable landmarks not only in New York City, but in the world.

Enter to win a group tour of the armory, presented in partnership with Park Avenue Armory and NYC ARTS.

What distinguishes the Park Avenue Armory from other armories in the city?

The Park Avenue Armory is the only privately funded armory in the country. It was built for the Seventh Regiment and for military practices, but it was also built as a social club, and a place of public gathering. It was very specifically built for that. And, of course its interiors were by the most important designers of the time, including Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White. Also, the structure was built like a European train station, which is unusual. It was done to be rather magnificent.

Are there any little known or surprising aspects of the armory’s history or restoration you can share?

The Seventh Regiment members had their locker rooms designed by the Herter brothers, so these locker rooms are some of the most important interiors in the country, because they are mahogany and they are highly decorated with paintings, elaborate lighting fixtures, matching suites of incredibly important furniture — so they were locker room like no one has ever seen them!

How is the armory’s artistic programming selected?

We have an artistic director, Kristy Edmunds, and the works are by important artists who need an unconventional space like ours to develop something that they are working on. There are certain things that are so obvious – there’s this piece that we’re going to be doing this June with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert where there are three orchestras and the audience sits in the middle; it’s called Gruppen. It’s rarely performed because it has this requirement. So we go from a piece like that that’s probably never been performed exactly the way Stockhausen wanted it, and we’ll be able to do that, to commissioning artists that are at this point in their work where they want to do something unconventional, in an epic space.

Can you tell us about the Artists-in-Residence program?

For the Artists in Residence program, we generally work with artists in eight to twelve month residencies. They are artists who are working on projects that could possibly use our space. That includes either the drill hall or the historic rooms, particularly our lower-level reception rooms, which we are increasingly using for music and art installations. An example would be Julian Crouch, who is a set designer and puppeteer, who is working on a piece called “The Devil and Mr. Punch.” It’s not a requirement – we learn so much about artists when they work in the space and how they use the space. Shen Wei is maybe even a better example – they are artists in residence here, and they are doing a new commission that will be presented in December. So having them in the space and getting a feel for the space has been essential. Being here has really affected the way the piece has developed. It really is a site-specific response.

The other thing about artists is that they keep you connected to the artistic community – they are always talking to us about other artists who work in this genre who would like to use the historic rooms or the drill hall.

The function of the armory has changed significantly over the years, but it has stayed relevant to New York City. What’s next for the armory in terms of programming and its function?

We’re just four years old, so we’re young yet, and we are still developing our identity and our artistic programming. 2012 will be only our second year doing our own artistic programming, so we’re very much still at a growing stage. I think in the years to come we’ll be doing an increasing amount of programming, working with national companies that present in unconventional spaces like our own, really to bring to New York work that they would not otherwise see. So, I think we’re in a growth period.

What do you hope viewers will take from the armory’s Treasures of New York episode?

I hope what they’ll learn is that they have one of the most important landmarks in the world sitting at 66th and Park Avenue that is now establishing itself as a really dynamic, contemporary arts center. I hope they’re going to discover both of those facts, because I think it’s pretty exciting. We were listed in 2000 [by the World Monument Fund] as one of the hundred most endangered historic sites in the world, along with Machu Picchu. That’s how important these rooms are from an American point of view, and I think people still don’t realize what a treasure they have in this building. If they had realized it, it wouldn’t have deteriorated so much! The way to raise awareness is to get people into the building to see it, it’s part of the city’s cultural life, to come here and really get to enjoy these rooms — both the environment that they are in and the productions that we do.

Major support for Treasures of New York: Park Avenue Armory is provided by The Thompson Family Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and the Metropolitan Media Fund.

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Q&A with Patti LuPone

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Patti LuPone (Photo courtesy of Ethan Hill)

Patti LuPone, host and narrator of Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center, is a proud graduate of the first class of Juilliard’s Drama Division. She has appeared on THIRTEEN in Great Performances, Live From Lincoln Center, and other performing arts series.

LuPone spoke with THIRTEEN about her relationship with Lincoln Center and public television.

When you heard about Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center, what made you want to participate in the film?

I was honored to be asked. Lincoln Center has played an incredibly important role in my career.

You have a long, productive relationship with Lincoln Center, from your time as a Juilliard student to your many Lincoln Center productions. What are some of your favorite Lincoln Center memories?

Twelfth Night with Blythe Danner at the Beaumont, Ellis Rabb’s production of The Merchant of Venice with Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walken, singing “Sweeney Todd” with the NY Philharmonic and subsequent performances with them, watching the New York City Ballet at the State Theater and my second opera, The Magic Flute, at the new Metropolitan Opera House, and finally, making my Lincoln Center debut in Anything Goes at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

You made your television debut on THIRTEEN in 1976 in The Time of Your Life and have starred in many public television programs since then. Why is public television important in 2011?

Because it makes the arts available to a wide audience. Because the arts are a priority on public television, not reality TV.

Do you recall the first public television program you ever watched, or a program that was particularly memorable or inspiring?

Alistair Cooke hosting Masterpiece Theatre.

Name something New York City has that no other city offers.

The New York Yankees and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

*Interview courtesy of Elisa Lichtenbaum

Major support for Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center with Patti LuPone is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and the Metropolitan Media Fund.

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Lincoln Center with Patti LuPone

Monday, October 24th, 2011

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower wielded a shovel during the official groundbreaking ceremony for Lincoln Center on May 14, 1959, the nation’s first major cultural complex was born. WNET debuted three years later, with Edward R. Murrow ushering in the maiden broadcast. In 1965, WNET aired one of the first public television programs filmed at Lincoln Center – Three Premieres, a Lincoln Center: Stage 5 episode featuring choreography by Anna Sokolow.

An historic partnership was born, culminating in the opening of The Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center in April 2010.

That relationship continues today with Live From Lincoln Center and other specials, including Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center With Patti LuPone, a new documentary on the recent renovation and fascinating history of the storied performing arts center. LuPone, a graduate of the Juilliard School who has appeared on almost every stage at Lincoln Center, hosts and narrates.

The film showcases the stunning architectural renovations that are opening up Lincoln Center’s 16-acre campus in surprising ways, from a glass box dance studio that juts out over Broadway to a new Atrium that invites visitors to buy discount tickets, take tours, or enjoy free performances. Rare archival footage reveals Lincoln Center’s colorful history, with insights from The New Yorker’s architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Metropolitan Opera executive producer Peter Gelb, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ president Reynold Levy, and artists and architects who worked on the renovation.

Major support for Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center with Patti LuPone is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and the Metropolitan Media Fund.

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Lincoln Center with Patti LuPone Preview

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Tony winner Patti LuPone, a Juilliard graduate, hosts and narrates this documentary exploring the ambitious renovation and fascinating history of Lincoln Center.

Major support for Treasures of New York: Lincoln Center with Patti LuPone is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and the Metropolitan Media Fund.

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