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:
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.)
health of the downtown, bringing large numbers of people to the central
business district who use its shops and restaurants.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
Friends of the West Windsor
Junction 08852. Joy Miller, executive vice president. 609-688-0800;
fax, 215-752-6070. Home page: http://www.learningstudio.com.
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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