The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics was conceived in 1998 by Professors Diana Taylor (NYU), Zeca Ligiéro (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Javier Serna (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Mexico) and Luis Peirano (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), in order to expand methodologies for analyzing embodied practice and to energize research about shared practices in the Americas. Housed within the Department of Performance Studies in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, in 1998 the Institute received an initial planning grant from the Ford Foundation. Shortly thereafter, it offered its first course (“The Conquest,” 1999) and hosted its first Encuentro (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2000).

The initial impetus was to create a consortium of institutions that would house scholars interested in the intersection of performance and politics in the Americas, and to build collections of scholarly and artistic materials for research and teaching. Participants worked together to share materials and methodologies, and to build technological capacity at partner institutions to enable collaborative teaching across borders. As the initial efforts took shape, H.I. began to develop an archive of research materials and to train graduate students in a multilingual, collaborative environment. These graduate students also developed expertise in the information technologies that would enormously expand their abilities for collaborative knowledge production and for communicating their findings to hemispheric audience.

Since its inception, the Institute has developed expanding networks throughout the Americas. Beginning with the first Encuentro in Rio de Janeiro in 2000, Encuentros have been held in Monterrey, Mexico;  Lima, Peru; New York City, USA; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bogotá, Colombia; and São Paulo, Brazil. These conference/festivals have evolved into large-scale biannual events with close to 700 participants from across the Americas. The Institute currently has over 45 member universities and has developed partnerships with important New York organizations like La MaMa E.T.C., BAX/Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Dixon Place, HERE, El Museo del Barrio, and The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD). Our trilingual online journal, e-misférica, has now published two issues per year since 2004, featuring original work on topics including Dissidence, Archives, Performance and the Law, Aboriginal Performance, Sexualities in the Americas, Affect and Performance, and Body Politics/Corpografías, enabling collaborative and comparative perspectives on performance and politics throughout the hemisphere. From 2008 to 2013, Hemi collaboratively ran Centro Hemisférico/FOMMA, its first regional research and cultural center, located in San Cristóbal de las Casas, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Centro Hemisférico/FOMMA was a collaboration with la Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya (FOMMA), a Mayan women's theater collective and NGO, and was made possible by support from NYU and the Ford Foundation.

Since 1998, the Institute has also built a strong administrative base at NYU. Initially a project housed in the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, Hemi now benefits from the support and collaboration of several schools within NYU, including the College of Arts and Sciences and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, with participating faculty and students from Anthropology, Performance Studies, Art, Visual Studies, Cinema Studies, Spanish and Portuguese, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. In 2007 the Institute received an endowment from the Ford Foundation and became a University-wide initiative administratively located within the Office of the Provost.

Over the years, Hemi has received diverse sources of support. Most transformative has been the grant awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the Institute and New York University Libraries for the creation of the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL), the world's first permanent video collection of performance practices in the Americas. Along with the capacity for state-of-the-art digitization, this archive now includes over six hundred hours of digital video and trilingual supporting materials that will be available to scholars, artists, and interested audiences through its website. With seed support from The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and later the Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation Fund, the Institute launched the Hemispheric New York Performance Network. Through public performances and workshops, an emerging performers program, and collaboration with local cultural institutions, Hemispheric New York seeks to highlight the hemispheric encounters and the artistic vitality that make New York City the Americas’ greatest cultural crossroads.