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Project History

The idea for Princeton University's Arts and Transit Project grew from a vision articulated by President Shirley M. Tilghman not long after she took office in 2001. 

This vision sought to increase dramatically the opportunities Princeton students have to engage in the creative and performing arts. Tilghman was motivated by a personal view that engagement in the arts is just as important to educate young people for productive and meaningful lives as engagement in the sciences and engineering, in languages and literatures, and in the other fields in which the University offers programs.

She believes the arts provide opportunities for students to learn about themselves and their world; to shape their identities; to expand their imaginations; and to participate in the creative process with others. Princeton's existing resources have not been sufficient to meet the interests of students, and this is as true for students with no intention of majoring in the arts as for students who do want to major in these areas.

Muldoon, Tilghman, Morrison, and Lewis at launch
Paul Muldoon, Shirley M. Tilghman, Toni Morrison and Peter B. Lewis at the launch of the Lewis Center for the Arts.

There have been excellent students in recent years who have decided not to attend Princeton because they believed it does not provide adequate opportunities in the arts, and there have been other students who have come to Princeton in part because they found that they could pursue their interests in the arts, even as they also pursued their interests in neuroscience, or environmental engineering or many other fields.

Tilghman also recognized that universities are among the few institutions left in this country that have the resources to serve as incubators for new artists, and she believed that the overall quality and vitality of life on the campus — and in the community — could be significantly enhanced if there were more creative and performing artists on campus and more venues where they and their students could practice and perform their crafts.

In January 2006, a significant gift gave Tilghman's vision the boost it needed to become a reality. Peter B. Lewis, a 1955 graduate and trustee of the University, announced he would contribute $101 million to support a major new initiative to enhance the role of the creative and performing arts in the life of the University and its community.

Lewis' gift is funding a significant portion of an ambitious new initiative. That initiative — based on an intensive yearlong assessment of Princeton's strengths and aspirations in the arts — includes an expansion of programs in these fields, a significant increase in the number of artists teaching and collaborating on research at Princeton, and the creation of a new physical complex with improved and expanded facilities for the study and presentation of the creative and performing arts.

Campus Plan openhouse
Participants in the November 2006 "Plans in Progress" event learn about the Campus Plan from displays in Chancellor Green.

In 2006 when a team of architects, landscape architects and planners led by Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners began developing a 10-year comprehensive strategy to guide development through 2016 and beyond, the Arts and Transit Project became part of that effort. As the Campus Plan was evolving, organizers provided many opportunities for involvement and updates. In November 2006, a "Plans in Progress" event at Chancellor Green drew 900 people from the campus and community.

The decision to focus on the area near the intersection of University Place and Alexander Street was driven by several considerations: its ability to accommodate performance spaces, rehearsal spaces, and faculty offices and studios; its proximity to other spaces being used for similar purposes to allow synergies when possible — especially the nearby McCarter and Berlind theaters; and its accessibility to community members interested in seeing performances, exhibitions and other programming — the location near the edge of campus and near public transportation was very attractive.

In November 2007, the University named its new arts center the Lewis Center for the Arts in recognition of the Lewis gift. Two months later, in January 2008, Steven Holl Architects, an award-winning firm with extensive experience in the arts, was selected to design the initial academic buildings for the new Arts and Transit Project.

In 2011, the University began the zoning and site plan approval process with the local municipal boards, culminating in final site plan approval on Dec. 18, 2012. A timeline of the approval process appears below.

Municipal zoning & site plan approval timeline

As of Feb. 1, 2011

Information presented at the Jan. 31, 2011, joint meeting of the Princeton Borough Council, Township Committee and Regional Planning Board:

Remarks by Princeton President Tilghman (.doc)

University presentation (.pdf)

As of Feb. 15, 2011

President Shirley M. Tilghman discusses the arts and transit proposal at the Feb. 14, 2011, CPUC meeting.

As of May 11, 2011

Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee responds to a question raised at the May 10, 2011, Princeton Borough Council meeting on whether the University would consider developing the Arts and Transit Project without relocating the Dinky terminus:

May 11, 2011, letter to the mayor and council of Princeton Borough (.pdf)

As of June 22, 2011

Information presented at the June 21, 2011, Borough Council meeting on the benefits and impacts of the Arts and Transit Project:

Benefits and impacts presentation (.pdf)

As of July 8, 2011

Background information provided to the Princeton Regional Planning Board for its July 7, 2011, meeting:

Princeton Regional Planning Board Review of AET/E-5 Ordinances (.pdf)

As of Sept. 28, 2011

Revised memorandum of understanding regarding the Arts and Transit Project prepared by Princeton Borough, Princeton Township and Princeton University, and released Sept. 28, 2011:

Memorandum of Understanding Revised Draft (.pdf)

As of Oct. 25, 2011

The memorandum of understanding posted above was approved by Princeton Borough on Oct. 4, 2011, and by Princeton Township on Oct. 24, 2011.

The township and the borough introduced zoning ordinances over the summer to allow development for the arts in this area. The ordinances were reviewed by the Princeton Regional Planning Board. The township on Oct. 24 and the borough on Oct. 25 introduced revised ordinances incorporating the suggestions from the planning board.

As of Nov. 14, 2011

The Princeton Township Committee voted unanimously Nov. 14 to approve the zoning for the portion of the Arts and Transit Project that would fall within the township.

As of Dec. 7, 2011

The Princeton Borough Council voted Dec. 6 to grant final zoning approval for the portion of the Arts and Transit Project that would fall within the borough.

As of Feb. 2, 2012

Princeton University provides update to the community on planning progress for the Arts and Transit Project and announces selection of Rick Joy Architects, who will design the new station building and renovations for the existing station.

Letter to Princeton Regional Planning Board (.pdf)

As of April 23, 2012:

Princeton University has submitted its Arts and Transit Project to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton for the site plan approval that is necessary to begin construction.

As of Dec. 18, 2012:

The Regional Planning Board of Princeton approved the Arts and Transit Project plan by a vote of 9-1.

“... An arts neighborhood should be a part of the campus that looks outward and draws the outside world into Princeton, helping to increase interactions between town and gown. Because of their broad appeal, the arts provide a special opportunity for Princeton to engage with the surrounding communities and the world beyond. I believe that the community as well as the University would benefit from an expanded and more visible public presence of the creative arts.”
Shirley M. Tilghman from the President’s Report on the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton

• 10-year comprehensive
Princeton Campus Plan