Caffe Lena History Project

 


In honor of Caffè Lena’s 50th Anniversary we embarked on an unprecedented mission to define the venue’s legacy across new marketing products, platforms, and brand.

The Caffè is a venerated cultural institution recognized by the Library of Congress as the “oldest surviving American folk music coffeehouse” - yet the full story of its pioneering founder, its community impact and intergenerational connection had never been told.

Beginning with a comprehensive survey, we analyzed the Caffè’s full scope of archival content across virtually all touchpoints: audio, video, photography, artwork and text, as well as researching similar representative archival content of comparative venues.

After conducting more than 150 oral history interviews and analyzing more than 6,000 photographs, 600 live recorded shows, and 100 boxes of archival memorabilia, we identified core principles and key stories to inform Caffè Lena’s legacy.

The project resulted in an ASCAP-Deems Taylor and GRAMMY Foundation Award-winning full treatment of the material across cross-marketed platforms including: a 300-page coffee table book with foreword by Tim Robbins, an exhibition (Tang Museum, powerHouse Arena) a sold-out 3-CD box set, and an “archival reimagining” live performance at Skidmore College.

At the limited-engagement Skidmore performance, guests experienced a rare tribute to the 50-year musical history of Caffè Lena through student performances of archival music reinvented in the genre of their choosing, showcasing the Caffè’s timeless music to a modern day audience.

Our work also resulted in the donation of the full Caffè Lena archives to the Library of Congress, an educational website, social media content, and an online searchable digital database now available to researchers.

The content we organized and made accessible has since been used to fundraise for the successful Caffè Lena Capital Campaign, which enabled the venue to completely renovate and restore its historic building in 2016.

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