The Clark Center records document the activities of the Clark Center for the Performing Arts, an arts organization which focused on dance training and the presentation of new talent and emerging dance companies. Materials date from 1960, the first year of the Clark Center's operation, until 1995, six years after its dissolution. The collection consists of professional correspondence, as well as administrative files and legal records generated as part of the Center's instruction and scholarship programs. There are also production and publicity materials, such as clippings, brochures, press releases, and photographs representing some of the earliest performances by several dance professionals, including Kei Takei and her Moving Earth dance company and Margie Beals. A significant part of the collection consists of grant applications and other fundraising efforts relating to efforts to create a new facility as part of Theater Row, Phase II Development, a project of the 42nd Street Development Corporation. A dominant figure in the materials is Louise Roberts, Clark Center's director from 1970-1986, and compiler of this collection. With the exception of a few letters of a personal nature by Louise Roberts, there are no personal materials.
The Clark Center for Performing Arts was established in 1959 by Alvin Ailey as a studio and performance space in the building of the Westside YWCA in New York City. Originally conceived as a multi-arts center, by 1970 it had developed into a center for the performing arts, specializing in dance. The programs offered focused on two areas: dance instruction, and the support and presentation of young choreographers and small, developing dance companies of multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and particularly African-American origins. The Clark Center's dance curriculum offered classes in jazz, ballet, tap and modern dance, as well as dance techniques of African and other ethnic traditions. Faculty at various points included Alvin Ailey, Fred Benjamin, Pepsi Bethel, Thelma Hill, Mary Hinkson, Carmen de Lavallade, Anna Sokolow and Bertram Ross. A notable exception to the Center's overall focus on dance was the establishment of Playwrights Horizons in 1972 under the direction of Robert Moss, which remained affiliated with the Clark Center until 1974. During the 1970s, the Clark Center also entered the most active phase of its presentations program, establishing a well-regarded Summer Dance Festival series in 1975, which was staged on the mall of the City University of New York Graduate Center campus on 42nd Street for several years. Among the many dance professionals who can trace their early steps to the Clark Center are Margie Beals, George Faison, Meredith Monk, and Kei Takei. In 1970, Louise Roberts became the Clark Center director, remaining for sixteen years and becoming a central figure in the shaping of the Center's development. In 1974, a serious challenge Roberts and the Clark Center had to face was the search for a suitable space to house both its teaching and presenting programs when the YWCA building, in which the Center had been housed, was sold. Ambitious plans were developed to create a theater and studios on West 42nd Street's Theater Row. After many years of effort, however, by the end of 1985 the project had failed, leaving the Clark Center in serious financial difficulties. Roberts resigned as director of the Clark Center in August 1986, while the Center continued its operations amid considerable financial struggles until 1989.