Princeton University opens new Lewis Center for the Arts

Princeton University has been on a building spate recently, constructing sleek new labs, libraries, dorms, and classrooms over the past decade. In October, the University is adding a new item to that list — theaters. The University is celebrating the opening of a new jewel in the crown of its arts program, a new facility for the Lewis Center for the Arts and Department of Music.

Located near McCarter Theatre Center and Forbes on Alexander Road, the project has been a multi-year initiative to revitalize that end of the campus and town with new restaurants and performance spaces. The four years of construction have included the now-iconic Wawa and Dinky Station, additional parking, and two restaurants. While these amenities have become an integral part of commutes and a night at McCarter, the artistic part of the project will only fully be realized with the opening of three performing and visual arts buildings.

These three buildings, designed by world-renowned architect Steven Holl, will provide several new music, theater, and dance performance spaces to the Princeton University community as well as practice rooms and studios. In these newly designed performance spaces, Holl focuses on the connection between music and architecture.

Student artists are excited for the opportunities the new center will afford and the energy it will build around the arts at Princeton University.

“It is an undeniably glorious opportunity to be present for the opening of this building as well as being part of the first class that will have access to it for all four years,” said Fergus Binnie ’17, who is attending the university this fall. It was these new initiatives in the performing arts, which include the certificate in Musical Theater, that helped draw Binnie to Princeton over other institutions.

Michael Cadden, the Chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts, concurs.

“It’s just making sure that students know we’re just as interested in this area of human endeavor as any other area, and one of the ways you say that is through buildings,” said Cadden.

For him and Music Department Chair Wendy Heller, the new building does not represent a change in Princeton’s mission or a way it approaches the arts. Rather, the buildings primarily contain rehearsal rooms that will allow for more performances in existing spaces, as well as additional classes. However, Princeton is not trying to start a conservatory-style program.

Cadden explains Princeton’s approach to arts education by saying “From the ages of 18–22, learn about the world. How many aspects of the world you can master? If you choose to go into the arts, you’ll have something to say.” The new complex simply seeks to provide the tools that further that approach to holistic artistry instead of focusing only the intense technical training found at conservatories.

To celebrate the completion of the complex, the University will be holding an opening festival October 5–8, presenting over a dozen theater, music, dance, and art installations daily across the university campus. Featuring student, faculty, and alumni artists, the events will celebrate the diversity of artistic talent present in the Princeton community.

Highlights include the world premiere of Gurls, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ modern take on Euripides’ The Bacchae, about the crazed followers of Bacchus; and Orpheus Unsung, a new opera for electric guitar. The festival is an opportunity for the university to give the town a taste of decades of performances to come.

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