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Establishing a Legacy in the Performing Arts

In reading about the remarkable 60-year tenure of Stanley Drucker as principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic I thought about legacies in the performing arts. How does a great performer or creator establish a legacy? Surely it helps to have a long career like Drucker. But even when performers live a long time and establish a significant discography or film archive, their legacies can be short-lived. Some of them create institutions that live after them even though the legacy does not always endure. My uncle Boris Goldovsky whose eponymous opera company lasted for more than half a century, had no interest in trying to institutionalize something that he felt so clearly associated with his own person. Rather than keep the company going to sustain the line of his work, he believed publications and the work of his students would be sufficient. Other artists, especially those with a body of creative work, may feel differently. So the news that 90-year-old giant of the dance world, Merce Cunningham, recently addressed the question of his legacy made for interesting reading. After a final international tour, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the Cunningham Dance Foundation will close, leaving the choreographer’s legacy to the Merce Cunningham Trust. The Trust will be responsible for licensing the troupe’s physical, artistic, and intellectual property, such as choreography, props, and audio and video recordings. Several foundations, including the Mellon and Duke Foundations, have already contributed significant funds towards the $8 million capital campaign. All of this begs the question that many organizations may have to face, especially in these tough economic times: what is the appropriate action to sustain a legacy, whether it be the artistic vision or persona, or community service and programs?

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