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Arts Council Approaches Goals As Sunday Groundbreaking

Matthew Hersh

For the Arts Council of Princeton, what once seemed like a distant pipe dream will land on solid ground, literally, this weekend. Ground will be officially broken at 102 Witherspoon Street this Sunday as the cultural institution witnesses the first results of a $7.5 million capital campaign launched in March to build its new 16,740-square-foot building, to be called the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts. The new construction will add 8,040 square feet to the current building.

As it stands, the Arts Council is about $1 million short of its goal until real construction can get underway, Wendy Mager, president of the Arts Council board of Trustees, said Tuesday.

According to trustee Peter Bienstock, who heads up the Arts Council's capital campaign, the fund-raising, currently in the so-called "silent phase," should reach about 80 percent of the money needed to fund the building project and to finance the Council's temporary locations this summer and for a period estimated to be 18 months. The Arts Council will hold its summer school session at the Princeton Junior School on Fackler Road in Lawrence Township. A full relocation is slated for the fall, with the Arts Council looking toward the Princeton Shopping Center and several other locations for temporary residence, Ms. Mager said.

The next stage in the campaign, which kicks off in the fall, is the broader phase of the fund-raising, Mr. Bienstock said. The remaining 20 percent, about $1 million, and then the $2.5 million for the endowment, will take about another two years.

The fund-raising also builds on funds already raised by the Arts Council in 1999 and 2000. That money was raised before the original expansion plan was turned down by the Regional Planning Board of Princeton later in 2000. The effort raised about $3.8 million, but $1.3 million of those monies were used largely in code compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act in the entire approval process, as the Arts Council moved to scale back initial expansion plans.

The Arts Council received final approval from the Planning Board in June 2004. However, with all the fund-raising done for other institutions in town, including the Princeton Public Library, will the Arts Council be able to raise money as speedily as it had hoped? Mr. Bienstock said other entities raising funds would help.

"The other fund-raising actually helps us," he said, adding that the "extraordinary amount of charitable consciousness and giving" in the community benefits not-for-profit organizations like the Arts Council. "People know that these institutions have to be sustained with private dollars and each [institution] buttresses the other."

The Sunday, June 12, groundbreaking, which will take place from 2 to 4 p.m., rain or shine, will mark the symbolic "next step."

Paul Robeson Jr., son of the actor and athlete for whom the Arts Council building is named, will attend, as will Michael Graves, the Princeton architect who donated the design for the renovated and expanded building.

Halo Pub will provide an "old-fashioned ice cream social," with additional art activities for children, a mini-parade, and live music by the Medicine Men, a jazz group made up of four local physicians. A ceremony, during which Mr. Graves and Mr. Robeson will speak, will take place at 2:30 p.m.

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