Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 7
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
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Puppets, Music, Art, and a Great Quilt at ConTEMPORARY Arts Celebration

Ellen Gilbert

Koto, Mrs. Ijangayanga (a dragon!), Kit, Edwina, and Kinji will be part of the festivities when The Arts Council of Princeton observes Black History Month on Sunday, February 17, from 2 to 5 p.m. This event is free to the public and will be held at the conTEMPORARY Arts Center, located in the Princeton Shopping Center.

The celebration of African-American culture and history will begin with music and dance performances by members of the local community from 2 to 3 p.m. From 3 to 4 p.m guests can participate in a hands-on art workshop. Koto and Co. arrive when Mlanjeni’s Magical Theater presents a Muungamano performance, suitable for all ages, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Muungamano (pronounced: Moon GA ma NO) is an interactive form of East African theater that uses music, singing, puppetry, conjuring, storytelling, and masks. The audience at a Muungamano performance is not a let’s-sit-quietly-and- watch-this group. In the tradition of African theater, they actively participate in the goings-on on stage by singing, dancing, chanting, and chatting with the characters throughout the performance. Binamu Nduma, Producer of Mlanjeni’s’s Magical Theater, describes the group as “funny, witty, and fascinating to watch for children of all ages.”

This Muungamano presentation will differ from the traditional Muungamano practice of moving from one area to another.“It’s almost impossible here in America,” a spokesman for Mlanejeni’s Magic Theater explained. “People like to remain in their general seating area, so we don’t move them about as tradition dictates. In a traditional play you may start on the farm, but finish the performance by walking everyone into the forest.”

If they cannot walk into the forest, visitors to the Arts Council on Sunday afternoon can pay a visit to a neighborhood — the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, that is. The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Quilt, an original, hand-crafted quilt created by West Windsor quilter Gail Mitchell using over ninety photographs to illustrate the history of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, will be on display at the arts center during the Sunday afternoon event. The photographs used in the quilt were contributed, solicited, and selected by four neighborhood residents, Shirley Satterfield, Minnie Craig, Lois Craig and Cynthia (Chip) Fisher, who also chose the quilt material and determined the order of the images. Among the photos are one of Witherspoon Street as it appeared in the 1920s, an original photo of the Witherspoon Street Church, a 1908 photo of the original Witherspoon School for Colored Children, and an aerial view of Jackson Street, now Paul Robeson Place. The signatures of many of the older residents of the John-Witherspoon Street area appear on the small squares that form the perimeter of the quilt, which will go on permanent display at the new Paul Robeson Center for the Arts.

Although the grand opening of the Robeson Center, the Arts Council’s permanent home on Witherspoon Street, has been delayed until the spring, enthusiasm for the new building is running high. In its 2007-2008 brochure, Executive Director Jeff Nathanson wrote that he “had hoped to be writing this message from the comfort of our new offices in the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, but if you have driven by our site lately, you’ll know why we are continuing in the conTEMPORARY Arts Center. Construction projects often (some say always!) run behind schedule and ours is no exception. But the progress to date is tremendous and the striking design by architect Michael Graves is beautifully taking shape.”

For more information contact the Arts Council at (609)-924-8777 ext. 106, or log on to The conTEMPORARY Arts Center is located in the Princeton Shopping Center next to Rite Aid Pharmacy and has plenty of free parking.

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