JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson intends London’s new JW3 Jewish Cultural Centre to match the cultural calibre of renowned institutions like the Barbican and Southbank Centre. While this might sound rather ambitious, the astounding size of the new 35,000 square foot centre, along with the state of the art facilities and list of names involved, make this new venue an attraction for all London residents, both Jewish and otherwise. In a similar vein to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, which has established itself as an innovative and successful museum in Russia, JW3 hopes to become an influential institute that is proud of its Jewish identity but which invites all people to be involved.
Having officially opened on 29 September 2013, the centre has created a buzz throughout its construction. The building has been designed by the acclaimed architecture and design firm Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, renowned for their work on the regeneration of London’s South Bank, for landmarks such as the Hungerford Footbridge and the award-winning Oxo Tower Wharf, and for their part in delivering the award-winning Olympic Overlay for London 2012. A decade in the making, this new venue stands as another icon added to Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ list. Combining stunning design and cutting-edge technologies, JW3’s facilities include a screening room which hosts events such as recent cinema releases as well as Jewish film festivals, a large hall with the capacity to hold concerts, theatre shows, weddings and bar mitzvahs, a kosher restaurant run by the award-winning chefs from Made in Camden and Ottolenghi, and much more. With this wide range of facilities available, the potential of the new centre is huge, and gives credibility to Simonson’s ambitions.
In an interview with Jewish News.com, Simonson stated that he hopes the centre will make ‘Jews talk differently about being Jewish in an exciting way’. This aspect can be seen from the unconventional name of the venue. While the ‘J’ clearly stands for ‘Jewish’, W3 is a reference to the locality of the centre: Finchley Road, with the London postcode NW3. This unorthodox title highlights a pride in Jewish heritage, while transporting its cultural identity to 21st century London. Focusing on the cultural aspects of Judaism more than the religious, JW3 founder Dame Vivien Duffield has stated he wants JW3 to be a place ‘where we can have open debate about everything’.
Watch this video about the JW3 Centre below:
The grand opening in September saw stars like the Old Vic’s artistic director Kevin Spacey and American comedian Ruby Wax attend. The inauguration celebrations are planned to continue through to December and the centre’s launch season is filled with over a thousand events, spread over a diverse range of mediums. This programme includes Kevin Spacey presenting talks about the arts’ place in communities, director of the National Theatre Sir Nicholas Hytner taking workshops on making theatre, and artists Edmund De Waal and Gemma Blackshaw discussing The National Gallery exhibition Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900. On top of this, the centre also has plans on hosting events such as food markets, dances, outdoor cinema events and even ice-skating, highlighting the dexterity of JW3’s to be opened facilities.
A London icon in the making, JW3 promises to be a buzzing cultural hub that, as Dame Vivien Duffield has said ‘[is] a vibrant destination for London, open to all who have an interest in Jewish life’. In a promotion to highlight its desire to change the contemporary Jewish identity, a time capsule was buried under JW3, containing answers from the Jewish community to the question, ‘what does it mean to be Jewish?’ Only time will tell whether JW3 will truly embody modern Jewish identity. Until then, the electrifying list of activities is sure to attract the London masses to this new cultural destination.
By Andrew Kingsford-Smith