January 29, 2020

University’s New Outreach Program Facilitates Collaborations With Trenton

TAKING IT TO TRENTON: Violinist Stefan Jackiw’s visit last year with the Trenton Central High School Orchestra was an impetus for Princeton University’s new Neighborhood Project, which expands collaborations in the arts and other areas between the University and the capital city. The University has established a full-time position to oversee the new focus linking Trenton and the campus community. (Photo by Sonya Isenberg)

By Anne Levin

When famed orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel took part in a residency at Princeton University in 2018-2019, he made sure to work meaningful time with young music students in Trenton into his busy schedule. The positive impact of these collaborative sessions was felt not only by the students in Trenton, but also by members of the University community — so much so that a formal program has been launched to take it to the next level.

The Neighborhood Project is a five-year pilot program between Princeton University Concerts (PUC) and Trenton Central High School. This educational initiative is designed to connect well known musicians on PUC’s series with students from neighboring, low-income communities. It is a collaboration with Trenton Arts at Princeton, supported in large part by The Gustavo Dudamel Foundation.

Students this season are getting the opportunity to study and interact with professionals including violinist Stefan Jackiw, pianist Conrad Tao, and tap dancer Caleb Teicher. As the program unfolds, the University is seeking a full-time person focused solely on facilitating work not only with Trenton, but with surrounding areas of Mercer County where there is need. The job is advertised on the University website as assistant director for regional affairs, based in the Office of Community and Regional Affairs. It was posted in December.

“There’s a recognition that we already have some really engaged and meaningful work going on in the arts, research, teaching — it runs the gamut,” said Kristin Appelget, the University’s director for community and regional affairs. “This new hire shows that the University is committed to strengthening and building on these relationships.”

It is in the area of music that these collaborations have been most visible. On January 26, the television show CBS Sunday Morning aired a segment about Dudamel, focused on his residency at Princeton and work with Trenton students.  Last year, the University created the full-time position of program manager for arts outreach specifically for Lou Chen ’19, who founded the Trenton Youth Orchestra when he was a sophomore. Violinist Jackiw, who spent time with Trenton Central High School musicians this past fall, called them “talented, inspiring, and fun orchestra students,” adding, “the future is bright,” according to information from Princeton University Concerts.

PUC Director Marna Seltzer said that while the formal initiative is new, it has actually been in the works for several seasons. “I consider this type of program to be crucial in fulfilling our commitment to providing arts access for every member of our extended community, and especially for our youth,” she said in a press release. “Watching Stefan Jackiw interact with students in the Trenton High School Orchestra during the soft launch of this initiative was one of the highlights of our year. The rapt silence with which the high schoolers listened to Stefan’s performance of Bach after they had bonded with him over instrument care woes was magical.”

Seeing many of the students in the audience the following night at Jackiw’s Richardson Auditorium performance was “the cherry on top,” Seltzer added. “I am very much looking forward to witnessing this spark again and again as we continue to bring a diverse lineup of musicians to participate in this initiative.”

Appelget said the creation of the assistant director for regional affairs position came after extended discussions led by University Provost Deborah Prentice and Executive Vice President Treby Williams. “It takes time and good conversation, and there was a lot of input from across the University, and from those who have ongoing partnerships and relationships,” she said. “It was a deep dive through spring of last year to find out what the successes and the challenges were.”

According to Appelget, the person who gets the job will hopefully solve the logistical barriers that sometimes interfere with the creation of partnerships between the campus community and those in Mercer County who can benefit from their work. “Having an individual who can be a constant resource and a contact is just a great fit,” she said. “I call it connective tissue — making connections on campus so people can share what exists and what can be.”