Fales Library and Special Collections

While the Fales holdings of literature and food are important and impressive, it is the other major collections: the Downtown Collection and the Riot Grrrl Collections that propelled me that day into the office of senior archivist Lisa Darms.

Part of the Downtown Collection stacks, in stark contrast to the more traditional literature collection on the far shelves.

Through the 'seventies the Fales was essentially a one-man show, a small, quiet, special collection attached to NYU's Bobst Library. Current director Marvin Taylor started the decidedly rowdier Downtown Collection in 1994.
I'd heard great things from Ken Soehner at the Met about Marvin's energy and passion for his role at the helm of this extraordinary repository.
Marvin was out when I was poking around the collection, but this micro interview gave me a teaspoon of the wit and the beard behind the Fales' program of highly networked contemporaneous collecting.

The Downtown Collection seeks to document the Downtown Scene of NYC in all its interdisciplinary iterations. The enormous living breathing archive of the arts of Downtown Manhattan is quite a brief. The Village, SoHo and The LES have been a magnet, a hive and home of the worlds artists for, well, forever. Archiving and preserving the various local histories of dance, performance, film art and anti-art, the Downtown collection is behemoth and unusually shaped.

"Magic Box"
Being the major repository for a diverse arts community equates to extraordinary holdings and an impressive generation of donations and acquisitions.
Bequests from writers, artists, collectives, performances spaces and performers of this locale results in an archive with a decidedly liberal definition of "document".
The shelves are crammed with objects of varying dimensions. We found a crocodile. Skateboards. Two filing cabinets are traditionally archived (cabinets themselves being the catalogued object).

While this special collection values the artifactuality of these objects, the focus is on formal research value (one of the catalogued filing-cabinet's surface is a palimpsest of graffiti, art and info, donated from the offices of Fashion Moda, the other cabinet housed Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna's personal archive).

And the research value is sky high. Sharing the shelves with all these beautiful and unconventional objects are the papers of Richard Hell, Gary Indiana, Lucy Lippard and David Wojnarowicz. Among many, many others.

There is 65,000 audiovisual elements in the Downtown Collection. All unique: documentation of performances of dance, and music, experimental films and elements that went into making those productions.
There is also a local cable network AV collection with elements numbering the thousands. An incredibly rich documentation of an era, donated directly to the Fales, that could be a stand-alone collection in itself.

And the collection has momentum.
As the downtown area gentrifies and develops, the Fales continues to (unfortunately, but gratefully) benefit from the urban shift in this once lower socioecononmic, culturally sensitive area.
Many collectives and artists simply cannot afford to live in Manhattan, or maintain the space required for their own studios and archives.
An all too familiar tune, even here across the pond.