Arts Council of Princeton to Host Community-Wide 50th Birthday Party

Building Community through the Arts: Student-artist Victoria Wayland of Princeton, with the poster she designed for the Arts Council of Princeton’s 50th anniversary. (Photo courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

By Doug Wallack 

On Saturday, September 16, the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) will host a community-wide 50th birthday party, featuring food from local vendors, live music, games, a community birthday cake, and more. The event is intended to be a celebration of the organization’s mission: Building Community Through the Arts.

The Arts Council was established in 1967 by Bill Selden, a Princeton University administrator and alumnus of the Class of 1934. Anne Reeves, who served as the founding director, recalls that “everything was separate” in the Princeton arts world at the time. “The dancers had never met the musicians … [For] all these wonderful people who were talented, the Arts Council was a wonderful way to put them together.” Since then, the ACP’s most popular means of facilitating artistic exchange has almost certainly been the annual Communiversity Festival of the Arts, which began in 1971 as the Art People’s Party, and assumed its present form as a town-gown collaboration in 1985 with the participation of the Princeton University students.

Since 2008, the ACP has been based in the Michael Graves-designed Paul Robeson Center for the Arts at 102 Witherspoon Street. The organization, which acts as a nonprofit, independent of both the municipality and the University, now offers over 650 classes and workshops annually in subjects ranging from ceramics to flamenco dancing to photography. It also runs a number of programs outside of the Paul Robeson Center, including partnerships with the Princeton and Hopewell Valley schools, and its longstanding Arts Exchange, which brings art instruction to families served by HomeFront of Mercer County.

“I’ve been really, really blessed to inherit such a hardworking, thoughtful, and committed staff,” says current ACP Executive Director Taneshia Nash Laird, who assumed her role in December, taking over for Jeff Nathanson. She emphasizes that, although the ACP works with many part time instructors, there are only ten full time staff for the entire organization. The 50th anniversary has given Ms. Nash Laird occasion to reflect on the ways the Arts Council has worked in its first half century, and what she and her staff can do to help it grow and evolve going forward. “What are we going to do to move the needle?” she asks.

Beyond maintaining and improving their current programs, Ms. Nash Laird hopes to expand the ACP’s
offerings for artists. She wants to help artists become self-sufficient and is contemplating starting a professional development program that would include teacher training for artists. The ACP is also looking to increase the number of bilingual classes it offers in order to better accommodate the needs of the Princeton community, and it is finalizing a partnership with Sprout U School of the Arts in Trenton.

Next Saturday, though, “I think we just want to have fun,” Ms. Nash Laird says. She hopes to have as many community members as possible come through, and wants to encourage a sense of “ownership of the building.” In addition to the performances and food, the event will also include the opening reception of the Arts Council’s 50th Anniversary Invitational Exhibition, featuring work from decades of ACP affiliates in the Robeson Center’s Taplin Gallery, as well as on the second floor of the Princeton Public Library. The birthday party is only one afternoon, but it kicks off a year-long celebration of the ACP’s 50th anniversary, Ms. Nash Laird says.

The ACP 50th Birthday Party will take place on Saturday, September 16 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street. The event is free and open to the public.