I can only feel “settled” into a new semester once I have designed my walking routes in between classes and extracurricular activities. Knowing which paths I will take, which arches I will cross under, and which familiar faces I will pass all remedy the inevitable, stressful shuffle of a new time of the year. I like being able to gauge how much time I must leave myself to get to a class or a meeting on time. But there are two places that I have yet to smoothly integrate into my walking routes: 185 Nassau St. and New South. This is very unsettling.
Together these two buildings form the Lewis Center for the Arts, despite the near mile that separates them. Dance, theater, visual arts, and the Princeton Atelier programs are all formally housed in 185 Nassau St. while New South boasts theater and dance studio spaces on the main floor and the Creative Writing program on the sixth.
I’ve amassed a lot of time in these buildings. I’ve had rehearsals and courses in both locations. I’ve been a part of a dance thesis whose rehearsals have straddled both buildings in a very inelegant/went-to-the-wrong-building-and-now-have-to-run-walk-to-the-other kind of way. I absolutely despise the ten minutes (twelve if you count the über-slow New South elevator) that I spend sweatily galloping from my Creative Writing section in New South to my next class in McCosh. But I don’t want to focus on these personal inconveniences; I know that I don’t have the right to be complaining about mere commute length. My best friend who goes to the University of Michigan would tell me to shut up—and rightly so. She has to take buses to classes that she just wouldn’t be able to reach on foot in a reasonable amount of time.
What bother me instead are the implications of this distance. As I hike back from New South along Pyne Drive, I wonder why the “Center(s)” for the arts form the two poles of campus. After a stimulating discussion of one of my peer’s short stories or an energizing dance rehearsal—after the sheer exhilaration of generating creativity—the long return to campus makes me feel as if I’ve been somewhere out in the hinterlands. Are these buildings, and more importantly, the academic study of the arts, truly integrated into campus?
The Arts page of the official Princeton University website reads: “The Lewis Center for the Arts leads a University Initiative to make the arts a central feature of Princeton’s academic mission.” Yet students are in no ways required to take a creative arts course while at Princeton. Orange Key tours do not make the schlep to either building on their daily tours. In fact, based on the relative geography of the campus, it seems to me that a Princeton student could go their entire academic career without having to venture into either Lewis Center building…assuming that one never needs New South’s help to reenter a locked dorm room.
This distance is dangerous to the study of the arts on Princeton’s campus; it deters people who do not heartily consider themselves “artists” from visiting these spaces. I have multiple friends who have missed out on truly amazing readings, screenings, performances and exhibitions happening in 185 Nassau St. just because of the trek. On particularly rainy or snowy days, the tramp can discourage even the most passionate of artists from promptly arriving to class, rehearsal or studio time. Perhaps most notably, the distance makes the study of art more exclusive than it should be. Many people I have conversed with are extremely surprised to hear that there are introductory courses in the mystical Lewis Center departments. I hypothesize that these departments may not seem as tangible or approachable to students because of their locations. Introductory classes like DAN 209: Introduction to Movement and Dance and VIS 219: Art for Everyone are designed for students with little or no past experience, and should seem accessible to any interested student on campus.
One might argue that the ongoing Arts and Transit project will expand the presence of the arts on Princeton’s campus. The project aims to transform southwest campus (near Forbes and the Wa) by redirecting traffic flow, improving the Dinky station, and creating new spaces for the Lewis Center and the Music department. All of these initiatives intend to create a new so-called “nexus” of life for both town and gown. The Arts and Transit website reports that “there will be dance performance and acting studios, music rehearsal rooms, music performance spaces, gallery space and a black box theater” generated from this construction which is to be completed in 2017.
More space dedicated to the appreciation and creation of the arts will be extremely beneficial. But to whom? To the same group of students that are already making the trek to New South. The geography of the Arts and Transit project works to further develop an isolated pocket of the arts on campus. While the project claims to be an “edge-to-edge” initiative that intends to bolster the presence of the arts in the community and on campus, what does this new construction do to link one highly arts-concentrated area to its partner up on Nassau Street? It isn’t as if there is a can’t-miss, yellow-brick road connecting the two locations.
I firmly believe that the two buildings that form the Lewis Center are some of the most vibrant places on campus. There, students and professionals have the freedom to express themselves in a way that other departments cannot rival. The studios and classrooms are filled with light and creative energy. I wish that more students could easily pass by them on their walking routes, and perhaps become inspired to venture inside.