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Guide to the Judson Memorial Church Archive
1838-1995
  MSS.094

Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
3rd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2596
fales.library@nyu.edu


Fales Library and Special Collections

Collection processed by Tania Friedel and Matt Moore, 2000-01; 2001 accretion processed by Gwynneth Malin. Processing of media materials by Brent Phillips, 2006. 2009 Accretion processed by Nicholas Martin, 2010. Scrapbooks and yearbooks re-processed by Kristen Joy Owens, 2015.

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 21, 2017
Description is in English.

 Updated by Jacqueline Rider to reflect incorporation of video preservation master and sub-master files.  , March 2017

Historical Note

In 1838, a small group in Greenwich Village, dissatisfied with local churches, founded the Berean Church on the corner of Bedford and Downing Streets. Fifty years later, under the direction of Rev. Edward Judson (1844-1914), a new church was built and named Judson Memorial Church in memoriam to Edward's father Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), the first missionary to Burma. Edward Judson chose as the new location of his church the south side of Washington Square Park, because he wanted to reach out to the neighboring Italian community. His goal was not to convert, but to help supply this community, and any other community in need, with the necessary tools to become successful and independent.

Edward Judson's mission for the Judson Memorial Church was to create a ministry devoted to social outreach, which would meet the needs of the city and of its growing immigrant population. Some of the social service programs developed during Rev. Judson's tenure included a health center, an employment service, sewing and cooking classes, a community woodpile, and the delivery of fresh milk from New Jersey farms.

Judson Church's mission of social outreach continued throughout the years following Edward Judson's ministry. Beginning in the 1950's under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Spikeand continuing under Rev. Howard Moody, Judson Memorial Church established programs designed to help those in need despite the controversial or sometimes, unpopular nature of that help. The church, for example, established local networks to aid women who needed abortions, housed and cared for drug addicts and runaway teens, established a Professional Women's Clinic for women engaged in prostitution, and helped provide medical resources for people with AIDS to name only a few of it's progressive programs.

The Judson Memorial Church supported a radical arts ministry. The groundwork for involvement in the arts had been laid by Edward Judson's gospel sings and moving picture shows during the early years of the church. However, the Judson Arts Ministry did not fully take shape until the late 1950's when church members polled local artists to determine how the church could best assist the arts community. The results of this inquiry indicated that artists needed space in which to create and show their work. The Judson Memorial Church responded by making the space of the church available to artists for art exhibitions, rehearsals, and performances. The church also assured that this space was to be a place where these artists could have the freedom to experiment in their work without fear of censorship.

In 1957, the Judson Memorial Church offered gallery space to Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, and Robert Rauschenberg, who were then unknown artists. In 1959, the Judson Gallery showed work by Pop artists, Tom Wesselman, Daniel Spoerri, and Red Grooms. The Judson Gallery became the first home to the "happenings" movement of the 1960's. Hosted by the Judson Group, these "happenings" included Ray Gun Spex and Jim Dines' presentation of an environment called Apple Shrines.

In 1959, the Judson Literary Quarterly, Exodus, was published under the aegis of the Judson Studio. This anthology of poetry edited by Howard Hart and sold in local bookstores, included poems by William Godden, Robert Hanlon, and John Williams. Volumes I, II, and III of Exodus were published in the spring of 1959, the fall of 1959, and the summer of 1960, respectively. Exodus later became The Judson Review, edited by Rev. Al Carmines and Don Katzman. Volume I of The Judson Review was published in 1963 and included the poetry of Jackson Mac Low, Diane Wakoski, and Joel Oppenheimer.

In 1961, the Judson Poet's Theater was founded by Robert Nichols and Chuck Gordone, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a "free-wheeling" Sunday-school teacher at the church. The Judson Poet's Theater laid the foundation for "off off" Broadway theater, by producing plays by Rosalyn Drexler, Chuck Gordone, Maria Irene Fornes, Robert Nichols, Sam Shepard, and Lanford Wilson. In 1967, Rev. Al Carmines restructured the group and renamed it the Judson Musical Theater. The Judson Musical Theater produced musical theater performances throughout the late 1960's and the 1970's.

The Judson Dance Theater, which began in 1962, provided a venue for dancers and choreographers such as Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, David Gordon, and Yvonne Rainer to create and show their work. Among others, these dancers and choreographers shaped dance history by creating post-modern dance, the first avant-garde movement in dance theater since the modern dance of the 1930's and 1940's. Judson Dance Theater was founded by a group of young choreographers who had taken Robert Dunn's choreography course at the Merce Cunningham studio from 1960-1962. These choreographers decided to present a concert of work they had created during the Dunn course. Judson Memorial Church welcomed the group and provided space for rehearsal and performance. A Concert of Dance #1, open to the public and free of charge, was presented at Judson Memorial Church on July 6, 1962. This concert proved to be the beginning of the evolution of post-modern dance.

The term Judson Dance Theater requires some additional clarification. In its most narrow sense, the term Judson Dance Theater refers to the choreographers associated with the cooperative group formed after the Dunn course that adopted this name and produced concerts at Judson Memorial Church. These concerts, which were titled numerically as A Concert of Dance #1 (July 6, 1962) through A Concert of Dance #16 (April 29, 1964), grew out of weekly workshops held at the church. However, the term Judson Dance Theater has been used in a broader sense to refer to choreographers who were associated with the Judson Memorial Church, although they were not part of this original group. It is in this broader sense that the term Judson Dance Theater is used in reference to this collection.

In the 1970's, the Judson Memorial Church hosted various art shows and multi-media events. Most notable among these multi-media events was the People's Flag Show of November 1970, a six-day exhibition of painting and sculpture on the theme of the American flag. The exhibit and the accompanying symposium, featuring speeches by Abbie Hoffman and Kate Millet, attracted widespread attention from the public, the press, and the police. During the final days of the exhibit, three of the contributing artists were arrested, Rev. Howard Moody was served with a summons, and the District Attorney closed the exhibit on charges of desecration of the American flag.

In the 1980's, the Judson Memorial Church sponsored various political theater performances, such as those by the Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater. These performances included Insurrection Opera and Oratorio, performed in February and March of 1984. In this performance, the Bread and Puppet Theater, under the direction of founder, Peter Schumann, used opera and the company's now signature oversized puppets to convey an anti-nuclear message.

The Judson Memorial Church celebrated its Centennial in 1990 with performances and symposia involving many of the artists who had been involved with the arts ministry in the 1960's and 1970's. The Judson Memorial Church continues its support of the arts and its social outreach to the community today. Among the church's present day arts-related activities is a free dance concert series coordinated by the dance organization, Movement Research, and held at the Judson Memorial Church on Monday evenings.

CHRONOLOGY

  • 1838: Berean Church founded
  • 1881-1913: Edward Judson Ministry
  • 1890: Building of Judson Memorial Church
  • 1914-26: A. Ray Petty Ministry
  • 1922: Health Center Opens
  • 1926-37: Lawrence Hosie Ministry
  • 1930's: Social Action Fellowship
  • 1948: Health Center Converted to Student House
  • 1949-56: Robert Spike Ministry
  • 1951: Community Center Opens
  • 1956-1992: Howard Moody Ministry
  • 1958: Judson Gallery Opens
  • 1959: Judson Literary Quarterly: Exodus Published
  • 1961-1981: Al Carmines Ministry
  • 1961: Judson Poet's Theater Founded
  • 1962: Judson Dance Theater Founded
  • 1963: Judson Review: Volume 1 Published
  • 1967: Judson Musical Theater Founded
  • 1965-1969: Judson Chamber Concerts
  • 1970: People's Flag Show
  • 1975: Grace House Renovations
  • 1977: Jubilee Renovations
  • 1978: Prostitution Project Begins
  • 1980: Bread and Puppet Theater Performances
  • 1984: AIDS Task Force Established
  • 1990: Centennial
  • 1991-92: Centennial Renovations
  • 1992-93: William Malcomson Interim Ministry
  • 1993-2002: Peter Laarman Ministry