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Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder with George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet, and the School of American Ballet, died on this date in 1996. He served as general director of the New York City Ballet from 1948 until 1989. Kirstein also helped to found the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art, the forerunner of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Through his writing, friendships, and arts advocacy, Kirstein exercised enormous influence upon dance, painting, theater, film, photography, architecture, and other creative fields. Born in 1907 in Rochester, New York into a well-to-do family (his father, Louis E. Kirstein, was a partner in Filene’s department store), Kirstein also served (1944-45) in the U.S. Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (the “Monuments Men”), which tracked down and retrieved works of art that had been stolen by the Nazis. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and the National Medal of Arts in 1985.
“In liberal democracy and anxious anarchy, the traditional classic dance, compact of aristocratic authority and absolute freedom in a necessity of order, has never been so promising as an independent expression as it is today.” —Lincoln Kirstein (1952)