Arts centers are not only fertile ground for innovative vision. They’re places where a community can create social bonds.
We wanted to check in on some of the cultural projects in the works that will help reflect, strengthen and define the character of our area:
• On Jan. 18, construction began on the Barbara Walters Campus Center at Sarah Lawrence College, named in honor of the longtime TV anchorwoman, who is an alumna of the Yonkers-based college. Walters donated $15 million to the donor-funded $35 million project designed by KSS Architects.
The 34,800-square-foot gathering space will include a large, flexible multipurpose venue, a light-filled atrium and facilities for dining, lounging and socializing. The Barbara Walters Gallery for fine art exhibitions will be moved permanently to the new center from its current home at the more than 60,000-square-foot, Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold Visual Arts Center, to which Walters donated $1 million in the past. The new center will also house The Barbara Walters Archives and Reading Room, containing a trove of Walters’ video interviews, transcripts and personal letters.
The centrally located, environmentally friendly campus center is expected to open in fall 2019 and serve as a cultural hub for students as well as the surrounding community.
“The crossroads of Kimball Avenue and Glen Washington Road will now act as our ‘front door,’” Sarah Lawrence College President Cristle Collins Judd said at the ground-breaking ceremony. Added Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano: “My wish for this center is that Sarah Lawrence uses it to enhance its outreach and that it become not only a campus center but a center for all.” (sarahlawrence.edu)
• Meanwhile, reconstruction of the historic Bedford Playhouse in downtown Bedford Village is nearing completion. The 180-seat main theater — flanked by two smaller theaters — is designed to be the area’s go-to venue for the arts and other community-driven events, offering dynamic programming in the bargain.
“Bedford Playhouse is deep in final phase of construction and hoping to open by summer 2018, pending a final fundraising effort,” the playhouse’s Lindsay Cain Hearon said. “We’ve been conducting regular open house tours for the community, complete with drinks and popcorn, which have been hugely successful.”
Besides having aspirations for the theater to become a mecca for filmgoers in northern Westchester and parts of Fairfield County, the playhouse restorers considered the varied needs of the community in reimagining its potential. Its flexible spaces are designed to be used in ways that reflect local life — from yoga to art exhibits and speaker series to birthday parties.
“The majority of tour guests comment that they’ve been driving by for almost two years wondering what’s behind the doors,” Hearon said, “and now they are incredibly excited.”
The theater recently announced an upcoming screening of the HBO documentary film “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” which weaves historical footage and hand-painted animation together in a story about Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust. The event will be held March 11 at The Little Theater at Fox Lane Middle School in Bedford followed by a Q&A and panel discussion. (bedfordplayhouse.org)
• On a hilltop along the Saw Mill River Parkway in New Castle, the former Reader’s Digest headquarters (now Chappaqua Crossing, a mixed-use complex) houses another entertainment destination. The former DeWitt Wallace Auditorium was saved from demolition and recently donated to the village of Chappaqua for use as a performing arts venue. The newly founded Chappaqua Performing Arts Center, ChappPAC for short, has been called one of our area’s best-kept secrets. The 425-seat theater’s inaugural season began in September. (chappaquapac.org)
• At a representative town meeting this past October, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich received approval to proceed with plans for an ambitious expansion that will almost double its size and include permanent gallery space, an auditorium, a café, a gift shop, expanded storage and a new, more accessible entrance. (brucemuseum.org)