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Archive of Contemporary Music Desperately Seeks Funding for New Home

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The ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC), which houses more than three million recordings and millions of historic materials, is searching urgently for a new home. 

ARC, which B. George founded in 1985 in a lower Manhattan loft, has stored its collection for the past three years in a facility in Duchess County, N.Y. that was donated by hotelier Andre Balazs, but zoning laws imperil its existence. “The space we have now is zoned for agricultural storage and not for offices,” George tells Billboard. “We could be forced to move at any time.” 

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ARC shuttered its New York City location in Tribeca in 2020 because of skyrocketing rents and a lack of space. “Equally important, after more than 30 years in lower Manhattan, there was no help offered by the City of New York,” George says. 

Among its treasures, ARC houses Keith Richards’ 18,000-piece blues collection, which it says is one of the most extensive collections of blues and R&B recordings in the world. It also contains Brazilian magnate Zero Freitas’ Brazilian music collection, the late director Jonathan Demme’s Haitian music collection and late producer/label owner Jeep Holland’s collection of more than 125,000 classic rock and pop recordings. Artists including David Byrne, and renowned critics like the New York Times’ Jon Pareles and John Rockwell, have also donated recordings, books and papers.

Over the decades, ARC, whose board members have included the late David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Martin Scorsese and Q-Tip, has proved an invaluable resource. It provided research and music for such films as Goodfellas, That Thing You DoPhiladelphia and Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary, as well as supplying publishing information to BMI and the Harry Fox Agency. In recent years, ARC has focused on digitizing its collection.

ARC has already received an anonymous donation of $1 million to fund the move, though George estimates it needs $10 million to relocate. He would like to stay in the area. “Access is important,” he says, “so near the Hudson or Harlem train lines.”

George says ARC has not solicited record companies, even though Atlantic chairman/CEO Craig Kallman is on the board of trustees, and many major and independent labels have contributed material to the collection. “We wish to remain independent. Our collection and focus is on all forms of popular music from every culture and nation,” he says. “Beyond rock, we have the largest collections of Brazilian, Asian Indian, Caribbean and Latin Music in North America. To better understand the history of popular music means trying to save everything that happened.”

Ideally, a capital campaign will raise the $10 million and allow ARC to open a new facility, The Center for Popular Music, which would greatly expand its public offerings and allow students, educators, historians, musicians, journalists and fans to access the archives. “The goal is to be a free, welcoming place for research,” George says. “We will develop public programming and events including movie nights, concerts, class courses, exhibitions, listening parties, conferences, seminars, lectures, workshops, record sales, record release parties — activities that support our mission and engage the community. Our mission will always remain preservation.”

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