En Pointe — San Francisco Needs a Real Dance Museum
Had lunch in San Francisco recently with high school friends I adore, one of them is a supernumerary (extra) and former dancer for the San Francisco Ballet, a life-long lover of dance. Although way past toe shoes, my friend regularly appears in walk-on roles in various productions — Giselle, Swan Lake, and in The Nutcracker this holiday season (she’s the nanny pushing the baby carriage).
The rest of the time she volunteers at the SF Ballet Archive so she can earn tickets to performances during the season. As she talked about the richness of the archive and how it is used, it occurred to me that San Francisco needs a real museum of dance.
San Francisco Ballet was founded in 1933, making it the first professional ballet company in the United States. It’s home is in the War Memorial Opera House, which has seen some history: the United Nations had their first conference there in 1945 and the Treaty of San Francisco was drafted and signed there in 1951.
The San Francisco Museum of Performance + Design, founded in 1947 by Russell Hartley, a dancer and designer with San Francisco Ballet, has served the arts community for over 65 years as a cultural resource and an archive for some of our nation’s most important performance related materials.
It manages a rare collection of 3.5 million items on the history of performances in San Francisco and the Bay Area and hosts public programs onsite and online. MP+D recently moved from the Veterans Building in the Civic Center to a creative loft space South of Market Street in the Yerba Buena Gardens neighborhood.
The archive’s mission is to keep the unfolding history of the performing arts in the San Francisco Bay Area alive. The archive collects, preserves and interprets materials on performance and theater design to support learning, appreciation and creativity within a world-wide community of artists, researchers and the general public. But, it’s not a museum on the scale of the Museum of Modern Art (which opens a spectacular new facility this spring) or the Asian Art Museum.
What I’m talking about for dance is taking the archive to the next level, a full-blown showcase with galleries, traveling exhibits, interpretative displays, intimate performance spaces, with the archive serving as the museum’s foundation.
There is only one fully realized museum of dance in the country — the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs NY. The west coast has a long and rich history of dance — from ballet to tango, jazz to movies — but no grand museum space to kick up our heels.
All that’s needed to change that is a project plan and financial backing. Anybody know a few generous billionaires? Please send them my way. I have ideas I’d like to discuss. In the meantime, hope you’ll think about the idea and find time to dance this holiday season.