Grateful Dead Archive makes its public debut in New York

Wallace Baine
Santa Cruz Sentinel (MCT)

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — The good news for the Deadhead Nation is that the long-awaited treasure trove of original material from the Grateful Dead to be permanently archived at University of California, Santa Cruz will finally be open for public inspection.

The not-so-good news, at least for West Coast fans — the debut is happening in New York City.

The Grateful Dead Archive — established in 2008 at UCSC — and the New-York Historical Society is teaming up for an exhibition of some of the copious Dead-themed material from the Archive at the Historical Society's museum adjacent to Central Park in Manhattan through July 4.

The new exhibition — which opens Friday — marks a kind of coming out for the Archive.

"It's the first time that the physical materials from the Archive have been available in any large number," said Fredric Lieberman, the UCSC music professor who co-authored the landmark book "Planet Drum" with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart.

As for the Archive's eventual opening on the UCSC campus, that's still about a year away.

The Archive contains a staggering amount of material from the Dead's fabled 30-year career as the world's most prominent psychedelic band, including audio and videotapes of performances and interviews, press clippings of Dead concerts, ticket stubs, posters, band memorabilia and, said Lieberman, "almost literally every piece of paper that passed through the band's office." The Archive is said to even contain fan letters and requests for tickets, many of which were decorated with elaborate art work.

The material has been stored in a warehouse in an undisclosed location. It won't move into its new home until the completion of the retrofitting of the McHenry Library in 2011.

Still, the media are beginning to take notice. Lieberman was the subject of an extensive article in the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly and, he said, he is scheduled to do an interview with Rolling Stone. He said that the Archive will likely need the media attention since it will have to depend on fundraising to complete its mission, which is to digitize the enormous amount of material to make it accessible to scholars and fans on the Internet.

The New-York Historical Society is dedicated to documenting the history of New York City, and the Grateful Dead exhibition will trace the band's historical roots in the Bay Area, but will also focus on the band's performances in New York.

The university is in the final stages of choosing a full-time professional archivist to oversee the project. Once that person is in place, the careful digitizing of the Archive will begin in earnest. Lieberman said that the Archive will cultivate donors to help offset the considerable costs of the digital transfer process.

"The equipment need for this kind of work has to be of such a quality that it doesn't put the original material at risk," he said. "You can't just go down to your corner electronics store and buy something off the shelf and expect it to do the trick."


Learn more about the Grateful Dead Archive at

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