To the Editor


Corrections or additions?

This column was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 17, 1999. All rights reserved.

Between the Lines

One of the few beacons of light, so to speak, in this

year’s New Year’s Eve events will come from the Arts Council of Princeton,

which once again is sponsoring its panoply of arts and entertainment

events and other fireworks to spotlight the march of time. As Melinda

Sherwood points out in her New Year’s Eve preview on page 18 of this

issue, given that this is not only a new year, but also a new decade,

century, and millennium all rolled into one, some might expect a little

more — or even a lot more — than the ordinary.

But don’t complain. Be thankful that Anne Reeves and her colleagues

are around to help us celebrate. Without the Arts Council downtown

Princeton would face the new millennium with only the fortitude and

cheer offered by the bar and restaurant folks.

And so this seems to be the appropriate time to comment on the controversy

surrounding the Arts Council’s plans for a renovation and addition

to its cramped and well-worn WPA-era building in the heart of Princeton

Borough, at Paul Robeson Place and Witherspoon Street. The arts people

and architects from Michael Graves Architects — donating their

time — presented their plan to the Regional Planning Board last

December. The board called for some fine tuning, but was encouraging

enough that the Arts Council proceeded to raise $3.6 million in donations

to cover the projected cost of $4 million. This September the board

reviewed the addition plans again. This time some people somehow had

a change of heart — the building was too big, the design too audacious,

and it would take away critically needed parking spaces.

And, in an article earlier this month in the New York Times, another

issue was raised: racism. The Arts Council itself and its programs

were described by neighbors in the largely black John-Witherspoon

area as "exclusionary."

Arts Council officials — Suzanne Goldenson, Anne Reeves, and Peter

Bienstock — addressed all these objections in a letter to its

friends and to the public:

"1.) The Arts Council cannot solve the municipal parking

problem, and its future should not be held hostage to a situation

beyond its ability to change. (Be assured that we are making concrete

proposals to help to the extent we can.)

"2.) The Arts Council is a major contributor to the financial

health of the downtown, bringing large numbers of people to the central

business district who use its shops and restaurants.

"3.) The Arts Council has grown dramatically over the past

10 years, and is bursting its present quarters. The building it has

proposed to construct will enable it to serve the present level of

demand for its services and a level foreseeable for some time to come.

Every space on this small site will be used in multiple ways. There

is no fat in this plan; to cut is to cut bone and muscle.

"4.) The Board of the Arts Council is committed to its primary

mission, which is to provide arts education for people of all ages,

races and economic status, an incubator and performance space for

performing arts groups, and gallery and studio space for artists and

aspiring artists. (And in its new space, to offer a desperately-needed

small theater downtown for music groups, classic film, and children’s

programs.) It will perform that mission at its present site if it

possibly can, but if it cannot, it must locate in quarters which will

enable it to do so."

To which we would add one more argument: When arts organizations

allow themselves to become instruments for social change, they inevitably

lose the autonomy of their primary mission. Yes, the building is in

the borough’s historically African-American neighborhood. That this

is the same neighborhood where Paul Robeson, one of the nation’s premiere

dramatic and music artists was born and raised, surely adds to the

luster of the location.

Yet it’s said that "when your only tool is a hammer, every problem

looks like a nail." And if the Arts Council is viewed simply as

an agent for the social and economic makeover of its immediate neighborhood,

then it will be forced to just pound away at that task, to the detriment

of its own mission. What if another young Robeson were to come along

with a special talent in the arts? Wouldn’t we hope that such a youngster

would find his or her way to the Arts Council, a professional neighborhood

organization dedicated to nurturing the arts?

We said at the opening of this piece that the Arts Council would be

a beacon for Millennium Eve revelers. In fact, Michael Graves’s design

includes a charming and allegorical lighted tower to serve as just

such a beacon. This tower, unfortunately, may have become more a focus

of negative feelings than a source of light and inspiration: It’s

big and imposing, the critics argue.

But we looked closely at the computer-generated image of the proposed

building, set into a real foreground. Next to that pickup truck parked

on the street, the Arts Council addition looks less than awesome,

a simple two-story structure capped by a modest tower, far less physically

dominant than its Palmer Square counterparts. As always, a little

perspective goes a long way.

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To the Editor

Your recent article on Zakia Aziz Sayed "East (Pakistan)

meets West (Windsor)," (November 3) was informative and for the

most part flattering. I want to address, however, one incorrect assertion

and highlight several points about Zakia as an important artist.

The headline is incorrect. There is no country today known as East

Pakistan. More important, Zakia is from Bangladesh, not Pakistan.

Therefore, it is unclear to me why you would use this headline. I

am also uncertain why the article opens with "Bangladesh? On the

map, it’s to the right of the Indian subcontinent." Should not

the opening subject of this feature article be Zakia Aziz Sayed, the

artist, and her West Windsor exhibit rather than Eastern geography?

Zakia is one of Bangladesh’s most prominent contemporary artists.

She has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions internationally. Further

her paintings can be found in the National Museum of Bangladesh as

well as in public and private collections throughout the world. Her

showings in the "East" have always been well attended and

highly successful.

West Windsor is fortunate to have such a talented, sophisticated artist

in residence. The Friends of the West Windsor Library are pleased

that Zakia is willing to exhibit her most recent works in our gallery.

My regret is that these important facts about Zakia were not given

more immediate prominence in the article in place of the lengthy historical-political

discussion provided by the opening paragraph.

In closing, the Friends appreciate U.S. 1’s coverage of Zakia’s exhibit.

Her artwork and portrait were beautifully displayed. As to the background

information provided by the article, I understand that an artist’s

biography and personality are interesting to many. However, I believe

that it should never be necessary to mention how a person pronounces

English, especially someone to whom English is a second or third language.

In addition, Zakia’s wearing a nose stud and shoulder-length hair

or her following traditional wife and mother roles is not unusual

for many Eastern women. These facts should not bear mentioning to

your sophisticated and multi-ethnic readership. They detract from

what is truly noteworthy about Zakia’s artistic achievements.

Again, thank you for your coverage of our exciting event and for the

opportunity to correct certain misconceptions.

Irene Hoyt

Friends of the West Windsor


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The Learning Studio, 4250 Route 1 North, Monmouth

Junction 08852. Joy Miller, executive vice president. 609-688-0800;

fax, 215-752-6070. Home page:

An October 27 article erroneously stated that the New Jersey home

for this adult education center will be the former PickQuick Papers

building next to Triangle — Your Creative Center on Brunswick

Pike. Instead, the correct address will be 4250 Route 1 in North Brunswick.

The school opens January 3.

Occupying the former PickQuick papers building will be the Glass

Castle, which sells products related to glass and mirrors. The firm

also has a store in Neshanic Station (908-782-0812).

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