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Judith and Bruce Sagan Papers

Identifier: Dance-MS-Sagan

Scope and Content of the Collection

Material relating to the Harper Theater Dance Festival, established by Judith and Bruce Sagan in 1965, the Harper Dance Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council, The Chicago Central Area Committee, plus items regarding various dancers and companies which performed in Chicago, 1971-1980.

The Harper Theater Dance Festival items include articles, clippings, contracts, flyers, posters, programs, tickets and few pieces of miscellaneous memorabilia. The Illinois Arts Council material is a large collection of miscellaneous correspondence, forms, grant applications, memos, publications and other related items, 1965-1986. The Chicago Central Area Committee material relates to SummerDance’81 and SummerDance’82.


  • Creation: 1965-1986



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Judith and Bruce Sagan Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Judith and Bruce Sagan Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Judith and Bruce Sagan, and the Harper Theater Dance Festival

Local newspaper publishers and Chicago dance impresarios.

Founders of the Harper Theater Dance Festival, Bruce and Judith Sagan met while students at the University of Chicago. Bruce Sagan, a publisher of local newspapers, bought the Harper Theater business block in Hyde Park and in 1964 he and Judith renovated the theater in order to present a cross-section of top dance companies, some of them new to Chicago audiences. The festivals provided a full week of performance opportunities at a time when most touring companies were subjected to one-and two-night stands while on the road. Although including both ethnic and classic dance at the beginning, the festivals soon specialized as a showcase for the best contemporary and experimental dance companies in the country, such as Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais and Paul Taylor.

By the third season, Bruce Sagan gave up his active involvement in the dance festivals and Judith Sagan became sole producer. In 1971 the festival, now the Harper Dance Foundation, moved to downtown Chicago to the Civic Theater and then to the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall between 1971 and 1975. After 1975, the foundation became dormant, but was reactivated in 1979 to bring the Paul Taylor Dancers back to the Civic Theater.

Judith Sagan, as president of the Harper Dance Foundation, was locally and nationally active in service to the dance world. She was on the Dance Advisory Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, 1971-1974, and a member of the national board of the American Association of Dance Companies, 1972-1975. She also served on the dance panel of the Illinois Arts Council and the selection panel for SummerDance ’81 sponsored by the Chicago Central Area Committee (CCAC). Bruce Sagan has served on the board of the Illinois Arts Council and as president of the board of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago.


3 Linear Feet (2 boxes and 1 oversize box)


Material relating to the business career of Judith Sagan who founded the Harper Theater Dance Festival with her husband Bruce Sagan in 1965. This organization became the Harper Dance Foundation in 1970. A large portion of the collection concerns the Illinois Arts Council which supported the Sagans’ festival activities and on whose board both later served. Includes articles, clippings, correspondence, contracts, grant applications, programs, notes and other miscellaneous items concerning both the Harper Festivals and its participants, and the Illinois Arts Council.


Organized by institution: Harper Theater Festival and Harper Theater Foundation, Chicago Central Area Committee, and Illinois Arts Council.

Collection Stack Location

3a 48 12


Gift, Bruce Sagan, 1999.

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2006.

Inventory of the Judith and Bruce Sagan Papers, 1965-1986
Virginia Hay Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States