Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel collection, 1876-2023 and undated, bulk 1950-2023

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Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Barbaralee
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel is an advocate for the arts, interviewer, documentarian, teacher, political organizer, and resident of New York City. Her collection comprises research files, correspondence, printed materials such as articles and clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, artifacts, and artwork, all deriving from Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel's books, educational programming, interviews, public art installations, and exhibits centering on the arts and architecture and historic preservation in the United States. The materials highlight her work with many arts and political organizations and appointments to committees such as the Commission for Cultural Affairs, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. Also includes materials from her work as columnist and author for publications like Ms. Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, and Saturday Review, and as television producer for CBS and A and E. Topics include: art and architecture in the 20th century; artists' biographies and interviews; gender and society; historic preservation from the 1960s to the present; the history of New York City, particularly through art, architecture, and public space; media and society; social conditions in Slovakia during her husband's ambassadorship there; U.S. politics and public policy; arts programs affiliated with the White House; women and the arts; women's rights; and many others.
666 boxes (666 boxes; 9 oversize folders; 2 tubes; 2 frames.)
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Spanning 1876 to 2023, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1950 to the 2010s, the Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection documents the life and career of a pioneering advocate for art, architecture, historical preservation, and public policy. The collection comprises over 650 boxes of research files, correspondence, printed materials, photographs, memorabilia, artifacts, and artwork, all stemming from Diamonstein-Spielvogel's long career and her prolific output of books, educational programming, interviews, public art installations, and exhibits. The materials highlight her work with many arts and political organizations and her appointments to committees such as the Commission for Cultural Affairs and the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission. Over one hundred of her television interviews with notable artists and other figures have been digitized by the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Video Archive at Duke University.

Topics covered by the materials in this collection include broad categories such as art and architecture in the 20th century; historic preservation and the protection of cultural property; media and society; social conditions, women's rights and the arts in Slovakia during her husband's ambassadorship there; U.S. and overseas politics, particularly related to the Democratic Party; U.S. public policy, with a focus on the arts; the built environment; women and the arts; gender issues and women's rights; travel abroad; and many others. Early materials dating from 1929 to 1965 - chiefly correspondence, writings, and photographs - document family history, her education, and her earliest career in teaching. Other early dates in the collection refer to reproductions of 19th century images chiefly found in exhibit and research files.

The collection is divided into series: Correspondence, Writings, Personal Files, Political Files, Professional Files, Art and Architecture Project Files, Art and Design Project Files, Historic Preservation Project Files, Scrapbooks, and Visual Arts Materials.

Taken as a whole, the collection offers rich documentation on the evolution of art and architecture in the U.S., the development of adaptive reuse and landmarks legislation, the relationship of public policy to the arts, and the interplay between public policy and the built environment. Materials from Diamonstein-Spielvogel's personal and research files also document the changing roles of men and women in the United States, and the development of U.S. gender studies; not only did she write on the subject, but her own experiences reveal aspects of women in the workforce, in politics and activist movements, and in positions of authority. Additionally, because of her work for the White House and the Democratic Party, the collection offers insights into 20th century U.S. politics, nationally and in her home state of New York.

Biographical / historical:

Throughout her career, Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel has served as a leading voice on some of the defining urban issues of our time, especially preservation of the historic built environment. She is a pioneering advocate of the arts, with interests in architecture, design and public policy. The first Director of Cultural Affairs for New York City, she brought the first public art to Bryant Park in 1967 and the first public performance by the Metropolitan Opera to Central Park. One of her important contributions during her tenure was to codify the inclusion of cultural institutions in the New York City annual budget process; under her leadership, the 15 cultural institutions housed in City-owned buildings or on City-owned property that had been receiving their City support from the Bureau of the Budget, were added to the agency's budget.

She was the longest-serving Landmarks Preservation Commissioner in the city's history, spanning the administrations of Mayors Lindsay, Beame, Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani from 1972 to 1987. She also served as Mayor's Representative to the New York City Art/Public Design Commission. She was appointed to the New York City Cultural Commission (where she created the the Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture), was the Chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Foundation from 1987-1995 (where she created and established the now official NYC Historic Districts Markers and Maps Program and the NYC Historic Districts Street Name Sign Program), and since 1995 has been the Chair of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel has served under five presidential administrations. As a White House Assistant to the Intellectual-in-Residence Professor Eric F. Goldman during the Johnson administration, she helped create the White House Fellows, Presidential House Scholars Programs, and the only White House Festival of the Arts. She was appointed by President Reagan as a founding member to the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and served as Chair of the Subcommittee that commissioned all Public Art for the Museum. In 1996, she was appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, where she was elected the first woman vice chair in its more than 100-year history. In 2010, President Obama appointed her a commissioner of the American Battle Monuments Commission; in July 2013, she was named to lead the ABMC delegation to Busan, Korea, and was the keynote speaker at the ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War, attended by leaders and veterans of 21 participating nations. In 2022, she was appointed to the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts by President Biden.

She was appointed by the governor to the New York State Council on the Arts in 2007, served as vice chair from 2013 to 2016, and was appointed chair and CEO in 2016, serving in that capacity until 2018. In 2012, she was appointed to advise the Port Authority on the integration of public art and architecture into the World Trade Center site. After serving as a Board member from 1993 to 2007 for the New York State Historic Archives Partnership Trust, in 2019, she resumed her service to them as an advisory member.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel also has been active in many state and national Democratic campaigns. In 2013 she was elected a New York Democratic National Committee Member.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel received her doctorate with honors from New York University, and honorary doctorates from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD; Longwood University, Longwood, VA; the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn NY; and Purchase College, SUNY. She is the author of twenty-four books and numerous magazine and newspaper articles, and has served as curator of eight international museum exhibitions. Her book The Landmarks of New York is in its sixth edition (2016); her most recent publication is Notable New Yorkers: The HLPC Cultural Medallions Program (2018).

She has served as interviewer/producer of nine television series for the Arts & Entertainment Network in addition to numerous programs for other national networks, such as CBS and NBC. Her interviews with artists, architects, designers, and other notables have been digitized and made available on iTunes and YouTube as part of the Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Video Archive on YouTube. Audio interviews from 1972 to 1979 by Diamonstein-Spielvogel, of numerous artists, gallerists, and art professionals are part of the Columbia University Oral History Project.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel has served on the boards of numerous national and local institutions and organizations, including recent service in support of the Fresh Air Fund, the Drawing Committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Acquisitions Committee of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and the N.Y. Museum of Modern Art. She is a founding director of The High Line in New York City and the Trust for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. She has served on the boards for the American Council on the Arts, the White House Endowment Fund, the Municipal Art Society, the Landmarks Conservancy and B.A.M.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel has received numerous awards and honors, including an award from H.E.L.P. in 2001 and lifetime achievement awards from Partners for Livable Places in Washington, D.C. and the Citizens Committee of New York. She was the first woman to be honored with the Pratt Institute Founder's Award (1994), and also received the "Legend" designation by the Pratt Institute (2008); was named a "Landmarks Lion" by the Historic Districts Council in 2010, and received the Elly Award honoring outstanding women leaders in 2012. She was the first woman to be elected, in 2001, as an honorary member of PEN-Slovakia; and in 2003, received the Gen. Milan R. Stefanik Award for contributing to the advancement of public knowledge about the Slovak nation and people. In 2004, The Slovak Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs decorated her for "her remarkable personal contribution to the development of a civil society in Slovakia." In fall 2012 she was the recipient of the John Jay Heritage Award. She was honored as one of the Pride of Landmark Lions by the Historic Districts Council in 2015 and later that year received the inaugural Preservation Award from the New York Preservation Archive Project. In 2019, she received the Ellen Stewart Centennial Medal at La Mama Theatre.

In 2021, as chair of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Foundation, she worked with the Council on Foreign Relations to establish the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy. She has also established fellowships at the New York Public Library,the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University, and Pratt Institute. In June 2021, she initiated the establishment of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Institute for New York History, Politics, and Community Activism at the New-York Historical Society and currently serves as chair of the Institute's Advisory Board.

From 1956 to 1972, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel was married to Alan A. Diamonstein, Esq., who served as Chair of the Virginia Democratic Party from 1982 to 1985, and represented Newport News in the Virginia House of Delegates for 34 years.

In 1981, she married international business executive and former U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic, Carl Spielvogel (1928-2021), whose papers are housed in the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising and Marketing History in the David M. Rubenstein Library at Duke University. She resides in New York City.

Acquisition information:
The Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift from 1988 to 2023.
Processing information:

Processed by Ruth Cody, Levi Crews, Lawrence Giffin, Kristi Krueger, Paula Jeannet, and Caroline Muglia, August 2013 and May 2014.

Encoded by Craig Breaden, Ruth Cody, Levi Crews, Kristi Krueger, Paula Jeannet, and Caroline Muglia, February 2014 and May 2014.

Original video accession processed and encoded by Jackie Dean, Allison Gluvna, and Shayna Pekala, 1997; updated by Noah Huffman, 2009.

Accession(s) described in this finding aid: 1988 and 1997; 2011-0058; 2013-0010, -0118, 0119, -0160; 2014-0003 and -0052; 2015-0102, -0170; 2016-0022, -0039, -0053, -0113, -0127. 2017-0107, -0149, -0221; 2018-0008, -0071, -0144, -0122, -0169; 2019-0073, -0099, -0166; 2020-0059; 2021-0023, -0088; 2022-0019, -0108, -0156; 2023-0058.


Within series, subseries are predominantly arranged alphabetically, with some subseries and files arranged chronologically.

Later additions have been sorted and boxed annually as they arrive, with file titles inserted into the guide where they topically or chronologically would fall. This results in box numbers appearing scattered within some of the collection's file lists or series.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

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Using These Materials


Access restricted. Access to this collection requires the written permission of the donor. Please contact Research Services for information about how to request permission.

Original audiovisual and electronic media are closed to use; use copies are available unless noted otherwise in the collection guide. All researchers requesting copies of audiovisual materials from the collection for purposes other than private study and research are required to present written permission from the donor approving the request.

Due to size and complexity, all audiovisual materials are described in the Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Audiovisual Materials Collection, a separate collection guide.

Digital use copies and files in this collection have been migrated to a library server unless otherwise noted, and can be accessed on-site in the Rubenstein Library Reading Room. To request access, please contact Research Services prior to visiting the library.

Terms of access:

All distribution, publication, and other commercial use requests require the prior written permission of the donor.

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.