Calling to mind another nativity story, the Yard, the Island’s incubator for dance performance, was born in a barn. Offered up by David Flanders when there was no other rehearsal space available, the barn had no electricity, running water or enclosed walls. But it did have plenty of hay.

Fifty years later, the dance colony that currently resides at Beetlebung Corner in Chilmark and has fostered hundreds of prominent careers in dance looks back on its early days — hay and all — through a retrospective at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

The exhibition, which opened on July 30 and continues through Oct. 21 in the museum’s Waggaman Community Gallery, presents the Yard’s storied history through the decades, beginning at Mr. Flanders’ barn on Tabor House Road through today. This summer’s residencies included the Ronald K Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company, Adele Myers and Dancers, Urban Bush Women, Ephrat Asherie Dance and Brownbody, to name a few.

Exhibition includes performance costumes, as well as photography and video.

Much of the Yard’s story revolves around its founder, Patricia Nanon, who had already established her own dance career in New York before turning to the Island as her next source of inspiration in 1973. The idea was to bring dancers and choreographers together on the Island and equip the next generation of talent, a mission the Yard works to continue today.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations as an organization about how in order to grow, you have to know what your history is,” Yard program director Yvonne Mendez said.

Ms. Mendez first joined the Yard this past January and noted that the exhibition had been especially helpful in grounding the organization, whose network extends across the U.S., to its roots on the Vineyard.

“I knew the reputation [the Yard] had in the industry, I knew just from working in the mainland, but I never knew what it meant to the Island,” she said.

At the Yard in Chilmark with program director Yvonne Mendez and executive director Chloe Jones. — Ray Ewing

When making the retrospective, the exhibition’s curator, Kate Logue, said she looked at the points of continuity and transformation that defined the growth of an institution. A turning point Ms. Logue highlights is the move from The Yard hosting one group of dancers and choreographers for an entire summer to bringing in numerous companies from across the country each summer to experience Island life.

“One thing we’re continually mindful of going into future seasons is to nurture and expand our partnerships with groups like the Urban Bush Women and Danza Orgánica,” said Chloe Jones, The Yard’s executive director.

To compile a comprehensive timeline, Ms. Logue said she pored through thousands of photographs from the Patricia N. Nanon archive, reaching out to Ms. Nanon’s daughters, Victoria Woolner Samuels and Justine Woolner Wise, Yard alumni and current staff to fill in the stories that make the exhibition come to life. One alum, the choreographer Linda Tarnay, emphasized the connections and collaboration The Yard inspired in its dancers.

The barn space at the Yard. — Ray Ewing

A quote by Ms. Tarnay as told to Ms. Logue hangs prominently on the exhibition wall: “It may be hard for a non-dancer to comprehend the luxury offered by a Yard residency; not financial luxury, certainly, but the feeling of being valued and cared for. The three things that dancers and choreographers need — time, space and freedom to concentrate on their art — are given to them at The Yard. They escape from the heat and noise of the city. They make lasting friendships both personal and professional. In the autumn they return to their busy lives, refreshed and inspired by the magical beauty of the Island.”

A multimedia display includes dozens of archival photos, along with old programs, T-shirts and even original costume pieces courtesy of the Nanon family. To give the exhibit the sense of movement so crucial to understanding dance, Ms. Logue also included videos of performances throughout the decades, displayed on a TV screen mounted to the wall.

“I tried to take a few standout performances and give participants different access points to understand the same piece,” Ms. Logue said. “So if you see this photo of a dance, you also see the costumes on display and the masks used, and then you see it in action on screen. People learn in different ways so you want to always be aware of what will capture people’s attention.”

Gearing up for the next 50 years. — Ray Ewing

The Yard collaborated with the museum on the Moving Forward section of the exhibition, which includes a statement on the organization’s recent work and ongoing mission. Their focus for the next 50 years? Reminding Islanders that the organization’s core mission will continue.

“Patricia always talked about The Yard being a laboratory, and that’s really what we are for choreographers,” Ms. Jones said. “We’re a place to experiment, we’re a place to invest in ideas even if they’re new ideas, or if they’re ideas you’ve been curious about for a long time.”

For more information on the exhibit, visit