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Arts Council Ready for Expansion

Matthew Hersh

The Arts Council of Princeton announced Friday that it will need to raise about $5 million to pursue expansion efforts tentatively set for completion by the end of 2006. A capital campaign that will be geared to result in a combined goal of $7.5 million, will build on the $2.5 million already raised by the Arts Council in 1999 and 2000.

In June 2004, the cultural institution perched on the corner of Paul Robeson Place and Witherspoon Street won approval from the Princeton Regional Planning Board to build a new wing and expand its current structure, resulting in a 16,740-square-foot building that will be called the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts. That approval, and the long planning process that led up to the planning board's decision, drew vociferious opposition from nearby residents, who considered the proposed expansion an imposition on the neighborhood.

Along with the approval, which was also embraced by patrons of the Arts Council, comes a significant fund-raising effort the Councill hopes will be sufficient for the completion of the Michael Graves-designed building, according to Arts Council trustee Peter Bienstock.

Money raised will not only be used to build the new facility, but also to finance the summer camp at the Princeton Junior School on Fackler Road in Lawrence Township and to help finance a relocation of the full roster of programming for what could be as long as a year-and-a-half, Mr. Bienstock said.

"That's going to cost a lot," he added. "We're going to have to maintain our entire staff and our insurance and all our expenses." Mr. Bienstock said he would also look to secure endowment monies for the future of the Arts Council.

While the Arts Council has secured the Princeton Junior School for its summer camp, the organization continues to seek space for its programming between September of this year through the end of 2006.

The money raised in the 1999-2000 season was in anticipation of facility expansion before those proposals were turned down by the Princeton Regional Planning Board later in 2000. That effort raised about $3.8 million, but about $1.3 of those monies were used largely in code compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act as the Arts Council moved to scale back initial expansion plans.

As recently as the final approval last year, the Arts Council reduced its proposed expansion 21.4 percent, down from the previously-proposed 18,930 square feet.

Mr. Bienstock said the aim is to complete the engineering drawings by April and put building contracts out to bid and have a formal ground-breaking by June. That ground-breaking will coincide with the launching of a formal campaign that will feature various fund-raising events.

"Out best guess is that the campaigning will last 18 months to two years," Mr. Bienstock said, adding that the 2006 completion target date is attainable. "Our building committee and our architects all feel that it's a realistic date. This is not an enormous building. Most of the building that is there will remain and will be renovated," Mr. Bienstock said.

The new contruction will amount to an additional 8,040 square feet.

In related news, Anne Reeves, the long-time executive director of the Arts Council, will now take on the role of funding director, assisting in community outreach, fund-raising, and special events. The Arts Council is currently seeking a candidate to fill the role of executive director.

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