University proposal for downtown technology, arts and media center advances

December 4, 2015

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission for Logan Circle and Franklin Square (ANC 2F) voted unanimously to support a plan by Georgetown University to renovate and lease the Franklin School building at 925 13th Street NW as a technology, arts and media center in a special meeting Nov. 12. It is one of two proposals, the other one a hotel and arts space, recommended to the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to occupy the national historic landmark, which has been vacant since 2008.

The Georgetown proposal was advanced because it preserves more of the historical integrity of the building than the others, according to ANC 2F commissioner Kevin Deeley. “The residents in the neighborhood are excited to have a cultural amenity added to the neighborhood,” he said.

When the Deputy Mayor called for proposals on how to best use the building in a Request for Proposal process closing Oct. 16, Law Center professor Anthony Cook partnered with the developer Thoron Capital to plan an arts incubator for Georgetown and the greater community. “The vision was to be able to have space that would allow the coming together of music and film, technological innovation, and a connection with impact [on] urban planning, public policy, sort of all the things that Georgetown is known for and how could we put that into action,” said Music Professor and former Director of Performing Arts Anna Celenza.

According to Vice Provost for Education Randall Bass, the building presents several unique opportunities for the university and the greater community. “The interest in the space was in large part driven by the uniqueness and historic significance of the building, as well as the location,” he wrote in an email to the Voice. “The Franklin School would serve as a space of innovation and public outreach. It would facilitate GU in its efforts to connect with and serve the greater D.C. community.”

The building would provide more visible space for the music program’s performances, state-of-the-art recording facilities, which currently do not exist inside the Beltway, and space for D.C.-based music ensembles. “This unique space might make it possible to attract musicians who would like to supplement their training with various skill-sets around technology and entrepreneurship, while having access to practice facilities,” Bass wrote.

The Film and Media Studies program would benefit from studio space, according to Associate Dean Bernard Cook. “Currently, our Introduction to Filmmaking, Short Narrative Filmmaking, and Experimental Film Creation courses do not have access to suitable academic studio space,” he wrote in an email to the Voice. Previously, these courses used the Black Box Theater in Walsh, which is being converted into a gallery for the art program. “Without appropriate studio space, it is difficult to teach lighting and related techniques,” Cook wrote.

The annual Future of Music Policy Summit, most recently held Oct. 26 and 27 at Georgetown, which “brings in the leaders of the industry,” could also potentially use the space, as well as the PostClassical Ensemble  and a music program for K-12 children currently practicing at elementary schools. “Of the work I’ve done at Georgetown, it’s been about linking up with social justice, with media and technology, and then also the music program,” Celenza said.

The building contains a hall that could be used as a concert hall, much like Gaston Hall. “The biggest problem we have with the music program is we have no space on campus,” Celenza said, referring to the necessity of performing in Gaston Hall despite the expenses. “If the space were there, we wouldn’t be shelling out ten to fifteen thousand dollars a semester on just renting spaces to do our classes.”

An external review of the Music department rated the classes and students very highly, noting the 100% placement rate at graduation for relevant fields or graduate school. It rated the spaces poorly, noting that faculty are scattered across five buildings. Celenza hopes to see a room in New North turned into a choral rehearsal room.

Any new performance space on campus would have to be part of a long-term plan, according to Bass. “All classes, rehearsals, and faculty offices would remain on the Hilltop,” he wrote. “The goal was never merely to find additional space for music and performing or use the Franklin School project as a way to address basic needs of music for practice and performance space.”

Georgetown officials stress that the proposal is still very tentative. “We have yet to know whether or not we can line up a reasonable business plan with the requirements of the space and that align sufficiently with the University’s goals,” Bass wrote. “We would not move forward without a significant new philanthropic commitment.”

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