Following the unveiling of the design for the new campus Performing Arts Center last month, members of the Brown arts community are reacting to the building’s aesthetic and potential use.
The Herald spoke with eight members of the arts community, all of whom reacted positively to the building’s design.
In general, students and professors who spoke with The Herald hope that the space will allow for more partnerships between different departments and groups. The adaptability of the main hall — which can be reconfigured into five distinct presets — is conducive to collaboration involving multiple art forms, said Conductor and Director of the Orchestra Mark Seto. “Having a flexible space that allows not just for orchestra concerts, but has the potential to work with other types of collaborators, is really exciting and will allow the music program and all the arts departments to work in a more synergistic way,” he said.
Professor of Music and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Music Department Dana Gooley expressed enthusiasm about the potential for collaboration between various types of music within his department in the new PAC. “I have sometimes felt that the halls we have for classical music performance don’t work for jazz and vice versa,” Gooley said. “I think it’s great that we can have these five different standard configurations, and that we can serve a diversity of music and dance and theatrical performance.”
Currently, it is very difficult to combine multiple arts groups on campus given the limitations of spaces such as Sayles and Alumnae halls. “Time-wise and space-wise, there are too many constraints to make a lot of things happen,” said Lucy Duda ’20, president of the student board of the University Orchestra.
For example, the orchestra had discussed the possibility of performing alongside a full ballet, but Sayles Hall would not be able to spatially support the collaboration, said Max Naftol ’19, vice president of the student board of the Orchestra.
Performing and rehearsal spaces
For Seto, the potential uses of the main performance hall, which was designed with the needs of the orchestra in mind, are particularly exciting. “Simply having a space that is designed acoustically for music will be a huge boon,” he said. “Having a home for the orchestra which is fitting for the caliber of work that we do … will only do great things for the visibility of the program.”
Orchestra member Michael Tu ’22, along with Duda and Naftol, noted that the current spaces for the orchestra are not sufficient.
Alumnae Hall and Sayles Hall — where the group rehearses and performs — are not acoustically adequate for the needs of the orchestra, Duda said. “Often, we lose rehearsal time because of how hard it is to hear people speaking,” she said.
The poor acoustics of Alumnae Hall and Sayles Hall negatively affect the orchestra’s ability to perform at its highest level, Seto said. “When you have a situation where you can’t hear in an optimal way, people can’t do their best work,” he said.
“It’s a shame that for the past 100 years or so there has not been a proper hall in which we can play,” Naftol said.
Though Patricia Ybarra, associate professor of theater and performance studies and chair of the TAPS department is “excited about (the new) performance spaces,” she is more interested in the new below-ground rehearsal spaces. “What we’ve really lacked in the past is spaces to rehearse and create,” she said.
Quincy Confoy ’20, a double concentrator in TAPS and Gender and Sexuality Studies, agreed that the TAPS department is in need of better rehearsal spaces, citing the numerous times in which she has had to rehearse “in a basement classroom that’s badly lit and has no actual means to rehearse a dance or a song.”
Board member of the student-run theater group Production Workshop Ani Pula ’20 echoed the lack of proper rehearsal spaces at the University, adding that although PW performs at the downspace and will not perform at the new PAC, they will be able to reserve real studio spaces in the PAC rather than multi-use classrooms.
The expanded space of the PAC will decrease the necessity of separate performance and rehearsal buildings. Currently, the orchestra rehearses and performs in two separate locations, making transportation difficult, Duda said. “Every time we have a concert, we have to get moving trucks and show up at 8:00 in the morning to move all of our equipment from Alumnae to Sayles, and there’s always the worry about things getting damaged,” she said.
The new PAC will also feature a storage space for orchestra instruments, Naftol said, adding that the conditions of the current storage space do not meet the demands of the orchestra members and their instruments. “As a double bassist, I know keenly the lack of instrument storage,” he said. “It’s not humidified and it’s not climate-controlled, which is really damaging for the instruments. The new space will have proper climate-controlled storage facilities for instruments and the sheet music.”
Centralizing the arts
The PAC will centralize the rehearsals and performances of the orchestra and other groups on campus into one space, which will ultimately benefit the perception of arts at the University, Pula said. “Some of the inaccessibility around art can be bottlenecked by the lack of spaces and the fact that some spaces are shared by more groups than they can handle,” he added.
The new space will also attract more outside performers to the University, Naftol said. “(The orchestra) can invite more ambitious soloists and visiting artists to come,” he said. “We can book them on a stage in which they can really be received properly, which hopefully will increase Brown’s role in the arts, certainly in Rhode Island, but also on the national scale.”
This centralization of arts is an affirmation of their importance in the curriculum, Duda said. “In the performing arts community and in the music community, there’s a lot of desire for more resources and more institutional support, and it sounds like this project comes along with the administration taking the arts more seriously,” she said.
Generally, the new PAC will bring more visibility to the Music Department, Gooley said. “The Music Department has about 160 to 180 events per year … but sometimes people don’t realize how busy music is at Brown because the locations where we rehearse and perform are a little off-center.”
When compared to the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts’ role as a “laboratory space,” the new PAC will be built around the spectator experience due to its main hall and transparent nature, Gooley said. “I was completely enamored (with)the look of the building,” Gooley said. “It’s very modern, and it has a very open feel because there’s a lot of glass on the exterior. They designed it to be able to see into the hall from the outside so you can see what’s going on, and that gives a sense of the liveliness and activity of the arts at Brown.”
Though the current student body will not have a chance to use the space given its expected completion date of 2022, Seto said that students are excited about the addition to campus nonetheless. “Even among the students who will have graduated by (2022), there is a real sense of excitement that this is happening and this will be a great thing for the arts here,” he said.