University News

Growing the Arts at Brown
Welcoming Avery Willis Hoffman.

By Christina Paxson / January–March 2021
January 11th, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. The consequences of closures, postponements, and de-densifying every space in which we interact has resulted in financial stress across many industries. These unfortunate realities have hit particularly hard in the arts, culture, and creative economy as musicians, dancers, performers, and other creators were among the first to face cancellations and will likely be among the last to return to work. 

It is at times of great uncertainty that we perhaps need the arts the most—to uplift us and to provide a sense of solidarity in our human experience. It’s through creative expression that we address society’s most vexing challenges and find inspiration. Art is not simply entertainment. It is a catalyst for creativity, discovery, and innovation that helps us better understand the world around us. 

Brown’s strategic plan positions the arts as an integral presence throughout the curriculum, fundamental to cultivating creative expression, stimulating discovery, and fueling inventive thinking. It is with this mindset that Brown has continued to prioritize the arts amid the pandemic. 

This past fall, following an extensive international search process, we announced a fantastic addition to Brown in the appointment of Avery Willis Hoffman as the inaugural artistic director of the Brown Arts Initiative. Avery comes to Brown from the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, where she curated and produced groundbreaking and diverse public programming initiatives, including numerous cultural events. 

She also has a deep appreciation for artistic performance. For more than a decade Avery has worked on multiple projects with acclaimed director Peter Sellars, including his international productions of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Mozart’s opera “Zaide,” and Toni Morrison’s “Desdemona.” 

It’s through creative expression that we address society’s most vexing challenges and find inspiration.

As an accomplished writer, director, producer, and curator of public programs, Avery brings exceptional depth of experience to this new role in which she will curate arts programming in the Granoff Center and, eventually, the new Performing Arts Center. She will collaborate closely with Brown’s six arts departments and cultural and institutional partners, such as Trinity Repertory Company and the Rhode Island School of Design, to build the visibility and quality of arts programming at Brown. 

Avery comes to Brown at a pivotal point in our arts evolution as we prepare to expand the depth of our arts offerings to become a home for experimental, cross-disciplinary, and engaged art-making, teaching, and research. 

Meanwhile, construction continues on a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center that will attract the best faculty, visiting artists, and students to Brown and provide them with the necessary diversity of space to experiment, work, and perform. 

In December we celebrated a major milestone in the topping off of the steel structure that will support this new technologically sophisticated, highly flexible space. While COVID-19 had some impact on the construction schedule, Rhode Island regulations throughout the pandemic have thankfully allowed for construction to continue safely, and we are on track for occupancy by the Fall of 2023, or perhaps even sooner. 

Once complete, this new building will quite literally make the performing arts a focal point on campus. The building will be not only one-of-a-kind in higher education but also will push the boundaries of modernization in performance spaces across the nation and the globe. 

Rebuilding our economy and restoring a sense of normalcy after the pandemic will be a monumental task. I can think of no better time to focus our energy on the future of the arts at Brown.

Read the January–March 2021 President's Spread on "Overcoming Inertia in Climate Change" here (PDF)

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January–March 2021