On an overcast Sunday, hordes of young families, students, and other community members milled around Nassau street, sampling food from their favorite restaurants, perusing handmade jewelry, listening to music, and making crafts.
At 1 p.m., President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 officially kicked off the afternoon, welcoming everyone to the 47th Communiversity ArtsFest on a stage in front of FitzRandolph Gate. For the next five hours, Princeton’s downtown was transformed into a celebration of music, food, and small businesses that populate this small town in central New Jersey.
More than 225 artists, crafters, and merchants set up shops along Nassau Street, Witherspooon Street, and Palmer Square, adorning the roads with brightly colored tents, as traffic was diverted elsewhere. Six stages were set up to host five hours of continuous entertainment, including performances by student a capella groups like the Nassoons, Tigressions, and Tigerlilies, as well as dance groups such as Bhangra, diSiac Dance Company, and Más Flow.
“I’ve loved Communiversity because as a Princeton student, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole world outside the university with a culture all of its own,” said Jaqueline Berardo ’19. “Every spring Communiversity reminds me of that, in the best way possible.”
Founded as “The Art People’s Party” on the lawn of Nassau Hall in 1970, the event was later renamed “Communiversity ArtsFest” to reflect the town-gown spirit of the event. Communiversity is organized by the Arts Council of Princeton, with a mission to “build community through the arts.” Now, as one of central New Jersey’s largest and longest-running cultural events, Communiversity hosts over 35,000 people every year.
Princeton students, while making up just a small portion of those in attendance, eagerly explored what this event offers. For students, Communiversity is an opportunity for cheap food, an excuse for a study break, as well as a chance to expand the Orange Bubble, if only slightly, by appreciating the town that thrives right on the other side of the FitzRandolph Gate.
“I’ve found that Communiversity is less about the food, the art, or the small businesses, and more about the general experience,” said John Ennis ’19, “It’s nice to be able to walk down Nassau and be reminded that there are more people in this community than just college students in the Orange Bubble.”
Students’ favorite restaurants like Olives and Nomad Pizza camped out next to less-recognized stores, like The Gingered Peach bakery and Antimo’s Italian Kitchen. Jammin Crepes’ food truck pulled up outside their storefront. A local radio station camped out next to Ruth’s Chris Streak House. Triumph Brewery was placed next to Qdoba. From small merchants to large chains, everyone was in action.
Thrift shops, jewelry stores, stores selling landscape paintings, photography, white linens, needlepoint, skin care products, and yoga wear all could be found lining Witherspoon Street.
Advocacy groups and community organizations sought to provide information and recruit volunteers. Schools promoted themselves to young families. Dogs and strollers were as common a sight as college students.
At one stand in front of Nassau Hall, people could pay to pie a person for three dollars to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Nearby, student groups like the American Whig-Cliosophic Society and Princeton Rocketry Club had booths. Plenty of kids’ games filled in the spaces in between, from bean bag tosses and catch-a-duck to a bounce house.
A hundred or so meters away, crowds flocked to the Bai Brands, where free drinks were being handed out. Dozens of volunteers in neon shirts walked around, checking in. Before the event even began, a line of more than a dozen people had long formed to wait for paella and sangria. Teens worked to create chalk art along Palmer Square, and craft-seeking adults could pay five dollars to design their own perfume bottles.
“It's nice to see the whole town out with their families and spend a few hours eating great food and watching performances,” explained Esther Choi ’19, “It's a side of Princeton that you can't really experience during a normal day on campus.”