By Peter Royston
(Stagebill Magazine, January 2002)

After it was announced that Jacqueline Davis would become Executive Director for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, she received a gift. "A Metropolitan Opera singer I know sent me a bouquet of pastel roses, with a note saying, 'Welcome to our library. Please take good care of it for us.'" She smiles at the memory. "I didn't understand that sense of ownership the artistic community feels towards the library before I got here, but I'm very aware of it now. It has to do with the role this institution plays in the creative process."

That singer needn't worry. After a three-year renovation designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, the transformations to this Lincoln Center institution are as dramatic as the art forms it celebrates and preserves. The key themes of its re-creation have been accessibility and openness, what James Polshek calls an "architecture of generosity."

Since its opening in 1965, the Library for the Performing Arts has been both beloved for its vast collection of circulating and research material, and scorned for its daunting layout and infrastructure. The building was, in Polshek's words, "a treasure trove in which the treasures were effectively locked away…."Now warm, inviting architecture, meticulous planning and cutting edge technology have all broken open the treasure chest, creating what Polshek hopes is "as much visual, and therefore intellectual accessibility as possible."

Each of the Library's circulating collections - recorded sound, orchestra materials and audio-video recordings on the first floor; music, dance, drama, film and arts administration on the second - offer computerized Library catalogues and PCs with links to performing arts databases on the World Wide Web. Rows of custom designed work tables are fashioned with power ports for lap top computers, but two tables on the end are left beautifully spare for those who still prefer pen and ink. Elegant glass walls mark destination points throughout the building; information desks are marked with the Library's official red for easy orientation. Expansive windows onto Lincoln Center and Amsterdam Avenue make researchers feel at once safe from the chaos of the outside world and a vital part of it

Perhaps the most drastic of the Library's structural changes was to the permanent research collection. Before the renovation, each division of the collection - the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, the Music Division, the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound - had its own reading room. Now the divisions have been unified into one great, sprawling room on the third floor. Each division has its own service desk, but researchers can now use resources from several collections at the same time.

Already a magnet for artists, Davis wants the Library to be a destination for anyone interested in the performing arts. Sure to attract the general public are the two museum-standard galleries where exhibitions are pulled from the Library's collections, and the lovingly renewed Bruno Walter Auditorium where lectures, seminars and performances explore different aspects of the Library's resources. Future presentations will include chamber music recitals by members of the Metropolitan Opera, and a series commemorating Richard Rodgers' centennial.

Accessibility in a library is actually a fairly radical idea, indicates James Polshek. He says, "Librarians by nature are protectors of the materials. Like George Raft used to say in gangster movies, 'We sell protection.' In the old days, libraries were built as fortresses to keep people out, not bring people in. But that's not the case here." The Library for the Performing Arts is easily used by artists and audience members alike. Jacqueline Davis says, "I might run into Joanne Woodward, who is looking at a play she'd like to produce at her theatre, and sitting next to her is an emerging actor reading that same play because he might get a part in it." No wonder Davis calls the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, "the silent partner of the performing arts community."

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