By Hector Gutierrez
Through the glass walls of Princeton’s new arts complex, viewers can see rooms hanging from the ceiling, as though they are waiting to be secured into the rest of the building. But the rooms will remain where they are, held by strings attached to the ceiling. The unique structure is designed to isolate the rooms from each other so musical vibrations do not travel.
The beauty of the building cannot conceal the fact that Princeton has not always emphasized arts in this way. As the Princeton campus prepares to welcome the $300 million architectural marvel that will house the production of myriad masterpieces as well as a new Dinky station, it marks a transition from the period when arts weren’t integrated as an important component of the curriculum.
Marion Young, the Administrative Director at Lewis Center for the Arts, remembers the near absence of passion for the arts during her time at Princeton in the late 1990s. “The arts were much more on the sidelines of the university at the time,” Young said. She was one of the students at the time who studied the arts seriously, graduating in 2000. She invested huge amounts of time working on a theater production, but not many people seemed to appreciate her effort. “I would spend 40 hours at the theatre trying to hang a light, but was never taken seriously,” Young said with melancholic nostalgia. Now, many more students participate in the arts, creating a massive need for the new building.
Shirley Tilghman, Princeton’s president from 2001 to 2012, recognized the campus’s need to shift its educational curriculum toward the arts from the beginning of her tenure. “President Tilghman’s vision was to expand the arts from ‘end to end’ of the campus,” Young said, adding that the former president’s words were a catalyst to conceive and produce the new arts complex.
Work on the complex began in 2006 and is expected to conclude next year. According to the directors, the biggest hindrance to the project has been getting the approval of the public in order to begin construction. Local residents opposed to the project filed a series of lawsuits over the relocation of the Dinky station and the appeals process for the building permits, but the suits were dismissed quickly.
Now the project will give more space to students interested in the arts and provide opportunities to create more music, painting, plays, and other types of art. “Students will get to tackle more sophisticated projects,” Young said. Meanwhile, she is nearing the artistic opportunities she never got while she was a student at Princeton.