Brooklyn College opens Tow Center for the Performing Arts


Three months after unexpectedly closing its Center for Performing Arts, Brooklyn College has opened up the new Leonard and Claire Tow Center for the Performing Arts. The first of its kind, the Tow Center is a state-of-the-art facility, home to multiple modern performance venues, practice rooms, stages and more, all housed in the newly constructed building on Brooklyn College’s campus, expanding on the previously shut down Center for Performing Arts.

The new building has a 225-seat theater, 24 music practice rooms, three large rehearsal rooms, reception halls and classrooms. It is also the first environmentally conscious LEED certified building on campus.

The surrounding area of the Tow Center itself has been remodeled to allow for seamless incorporation into Brooklyn College’s other new features, such as the new gateway with modernized security and grand plaza that allows for students to have an intermission from class in its generous seating area.

With an impressive 62,000 gross square feet, the Tow Center was welcomed into the Brooklyn campus on Nov. 1 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Among those present were Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson, CUNY Interim Chancellor Dr. Vita Rabinowitz and donor Leonard Tow. They each spoke at the new facility about how monumental the addition was for Brooklyn College and CUNY as a whole.

Leonard and Claire Tow both graduated from Brooklyn College, in 1950 and 1952, respectively. Leonard said in his address at the opening ceremony that he and his wife felt themselves to be “stewards,” aiming to redistribute their success and to “focus that redistribution on the venues from which it was generated.”

After giving back to their CUNY alma mater, the Tows were honored as namesakes of the new performing arts center.

As Rabinowitz said at the opening, “CUNY is a proud supporter of the arts. We have nurtured many musicians, writers, painters, playwrights, actors, poets, cultural leaders.”

Notable CUNY alumni in the fields of the arts include painter Faith Ringgold and writer Upton Sinclair from City College, fashion designer Ralph Lauren from Baruch College and poet Audre Lorde from Hunter College. The Tow Center has the potential to continue CUNY's legacy with the arts for generations.

Rabinowitz also noted that, “This building represents a thriving employment center supporting careers on stage and behind the scenes.” This refers to the ways the Tow Center will aid students in pursuing arts careers by providing a place for learning and practicing, as well as through expanding opportunities for those working within the new facilities, such as security guards and stagehands.

She addressed how the Tow Center provides “an equal footing” for students that’s comparable with those from other universities that may have more advantages in the arts.

Judith Bergtraum, CUNY’s senior vice chancellor, commented in a video posted by CUNYMedia on YouTube that Brooklyn College received approximately $100 million, including $10 million from the Tow Foundation and $81 million from the government.

This high expense allowed for an advanced facility with all the new utilities, such as a theater that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, featuring audio and visual aid for viewers with impairments. Bergtraum added, “You won’t find a theater like this in New York City.”

Although Anderson referred to the Tow Center's opening as a “transformational moment” in the life of Brooklyn College, the college's newest addition does raise questions about the previously closed Center for the Performing Arts and the axing of the “Brooklyn College Presents” performance series.

The closure of the center and the performance series, which hosted affordable performance and art programs for the Brooklyn community, were blamed on the demolishing of Walt Whitman Hall. The four full-time employees of the old center were fired and given a four-week severance package.

Although there are performances planned for the Tow Center as early as this week — such as an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya — there is no indication that the previous employees were rehired or whether there will be a continuation of the same affordable art programs.

The Tow Center's vast potential for growth within CUNY allows for more progress within the arts. As seen in the long legacy of artist alumni, CUNY can produce great success in fostering students to become notable artists.

With all the impressive new possibilities of the Tow Center, Brooklyn College can add to this hall of fame and help future CUNY students make their mark in the art world.