This past week, Kyle Berlin ’18 penned a in which he criticized the new Lewis Center for the Arts complex. From decrying the center’s allegedly garish architectural style to its supposed complicity in the Neoliberal Cooptation of the Arts, Berlin spared no aspect of the University’s newest project from criticism in his piece. As it turns out, not only are Berlin's accusations vague and unimportant, but they are wrong, threatening to obscure the great good that the existence of this new center will do for the University.
One thing should be very clear: Saying that a “space felt strangely dead” or that it seemed like it “didn’t care about people who inhabited it” is, like most of the criticisms in Berlin’s letter, architectural in nature, rather than substantive, or — dare I say — legitimate. It may very well be that modern buildings, with all their concrete, glass, and simplicity, come off as cold or unwelcoming to Berlin. Indeed, it seems that he prefers to march in processions through Gothic Revival buildings like East Pyne, but all this serves to reflect are Berlin’s aesthetic preferences, rather than any shortcomings on the part of the University.
More substantially, Berlin worries about the wastefulness of the center, poetically reminding us that the University is rich and perhaps ought not be. True enough, but something tells me that no matter how much we wish, the University won’t be donating a quarter of a billion dollars to the philanthropic organization of Berlin’s choice anytime soon. Keep in mind where this money would have gone if the University hadn’t spent it on the Center — perhaps a new entrepreneurship complex, a new genomics building, or something similar. The point is, that this much money was spent on the arts is, far from expected, a pleasant surprise, and the result of a push from people like Michael Pratt who have wanted to solidify the performing arts’ position at Princeton for nearly a half-century. The investment shows where the University places its values, and value for the arts is something to cheer about, rather than disparage.
Finally, Berlin voices a concern about neoliberal forces of the world conspiring against the arts and manifesting their conspiracy via the new center. Of course, beyond being very speculative, this concern ignores the material good this center does for the arts. Musicians on campus have more practice rooms, world-class instruments, and a venue many professional musicians would kill for. This means we’ll get more prospective students interested in the arts to enroll here rather than at places like Yale, more people from surrounding communities attending concerts on campus, and world-class artists drawn to perform here in a way they haven’t been in the past.
As Berlin wrote, perhaps art, at its best, “does … good” — but it does even better when it has space in which to do so. The arts at Princeton have long been neglected. With this center, and the University’s newfound commitment to the arts, that’s no longer true. Rather than complaining that the space seems empty and unloving, we ought to fill its halls with music, attend its concerts, and make use of this incredible new space we’re so lucky to have on campus.
Sinan Ozbay is a junior in philosophy from Princeton, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.