Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 40
 
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
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Coming Soon: Paul Robeson Center

Linda Arntzenius

The dark blue bricks on the rotunda of the Arts Council of Princeton’s new building are a sign that the end is in sight. But Jeff Nathanson, who joined the Arts Council as Executive Director in May 2005, continues to be as busy as ever.

Besides handling the organization’s administration and programming, Mr. Nathanson has been overseeing the renovation and expansion of the downtown building since he joined the organization in 2005. Far from daunted, the California native said: “I came in at a fantastic time.”

Mr. Nathanson directed a wide range of sculpture and public art projects in and around Princeton and New York before taking up his post with the Arts Council. He installed Magdalena Abakanowicz’s massive 20 “Big Figures” for the University Art Museum and has overseen permanent and temporary art for Princeton Public Library.

Last weekend, Mr. Nathanson conducted tours of the new facility for trustees and donors, whom he led through the Michael Graves-designed renovation and extension that brings the new facility to 16,740 square feet, 8,040 square feet more than the old building.

Mr. Graves, a Princeton resident and a world-renowned architect, donated his design for the state-of-the-art facility that includes a theater for dance, drama, music, film, and literary arts, as well as a gallery for contemporary art, studios for ceramics, photography, painting, and children’s art, as well as administrative offices.

“Mr. Graves has designed an unusual and complex facility,” commented Trustee Sal Arnone, who, as Director of Construction, is the interface between the Arts Council and the contractor. “This is no square box; the new facility has three floors on five different levels.”

Formerly the Director of Engineering for Johnson & Johnson, Mr. Arnone has been serving the Arts Council for four years. He described the renovation of the existing building as a difficult one because of the downtown location, which is small and doesn’t allow for multiple contractors working simultaneously. Progress has been protracted and costs higher, he said, because of the tight site and because the design had to be compatible with the existing structure. “We are fortunate that we didn’t hit any significant ground water,” he said, adding that the end result will definitely be worth the wait.

“The windows are currently being installed and when they have been completed, the interior will follow,” he said, speaking in his favorite Communiversity Room, named in recognition of the University’s contribution and symbolic of the town and gown partnership.

Located on the second floor of the rotunda that looks out onto the junction of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place, the room has a magnificent view of the library and of the center of Princeton.

On the floor below, the building’s entryway also looks out on the intersection. From Paul Robeson Place there will be access to nine parking spaces, primarily for employees. Like the street, the building is named for Princeton’s most famous son who lived as a child in the neighborhood.

In the entrance area, which will be reached from a short flight of blue steps matching the blue ceramic brick frontage, there will be an interactive sculpture designed by artist Joshua Kirsch recording the names of contributors to the Capital Campaign that is funding the new facility. “It’s a wonderful feature,” said Mr. Nathanson. “We are very proud of the level of support we’ve received from the community.”

Mr. Nathanson said that a great deal of thought had been given to technological advances so as to provide artists working in the facility with artistic opportunities befitting the 21st century.

A dance studio and a dark room are on the lower level. Men’s and women’s restrooms are on each level. A 120-seat theater doubles as a video and recording studio with modular seating, staging and risers.

“There’s a lot of built-in flexibility,” said Kookie Johnson, former trustee and the newly appointed Director of Community Relations. “Each room is designed for multiple uses, including the Anne Reeves Studio (honoring the organization’s founding director), which will provide space for an Artist-in-Residence.”

Interior doors with glass panels allow light to come from both sides of the building to flood the interior spaces.

The ceramics studio will accommodate four kilns. “We are the only facility in the region to offer public access photography and ceramics studios,” said Mr. Nathanson.

“The scale of the building is deceiving; it’s much bigger than it looks from outside,” said Peter Bienstock, Trustee and Chair for the Capital Campaign that was set up in 1999. Honorary chairs include Michael Graves, Cokie Roberts, Estelle and George Sands, Judith and William Scheide, and Vivian and Harold Shapiro. The campaign originally set out to raise $8 million for construction-related costs but hopes to raise an extra $2.5 million.

Founded in 1967 to “build community through the arts,” the the Arts Council of Princeton is led by President, Board of Trustees Wendy Mager.

The tentative date for the opening of the new facility has been announced as December 1.

Until then, classes continue at the conTEMPORARY Arts Center in the Princeton Shopping Center, 301 N. Harrison Street, where there will be a free Artists Potluck at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 4; the annual Day of the Dead Festival (El dia de los Muertos) in the courtyard from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, November 2; and “A Unique Evening of Theatre and Discussion” with members of Chimera Productions on Saturday October 20, at 7:30 p.m.

The Arts Council’s annual fall fundraiser, Dining by Design 2007, will take place on Saturday, October 27. The gala event will feature a cocktail reception, with an award presentation to Michael Graves and a silent auction from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. At 8 p.m, artistic themed dinner parties will take place at select Princeton area private homes. Now in its sixth year, Dining by Design is the Arts Council’s signature event.

For more information, call (609) 924-8777, or visit: www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

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