After over a year of renovations, Churchill House reopened to University faculty and students this fall.
The renovations to the building — which houses the Department of Africana Studies and the Rites and Reason Theatre — started in July 2022. The $20 million project added 3,000 square feet of space to the building, as well as several modernizing and accessibility-improving updates, according to a Sept. 26 University report. During the renovations, Churchill occupants temporarily relocated to Andrews House for the 2022-2023 academic year.
This fall, faculty and staff returned to the Angell Street building — arriving to changes that Alonzo Jones, technical director of Rites and Reason Theatre, described as a “long time coming.”
Noliwe Rooks, professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies, also noted the significance of the project’s completion.
“For me, it’s been two years of upheaval and disruption waiting for this moment,” Rooks said, noting that the plans for Churchill’s renovation began during her first year at the University. “It’s nice for me to finally feel like Africana is a home.”
In their recommendations, the task force called on the University to make “capital investments to improve the quality and quantity of spaces that proportionately support Black people, life and culture on campus.” Suggested projects, among others, included preserving and renovating community spaces and infrastructure in places like Churchill.
The recommendation to renovate Churchill was adopted by the University by late 2021, The Herald previously reported.
The newly renovated building features new spaces for both faculty and students, including an added wing for staff offices and a basement-level classroom. Rooks also highlighted the “living room,” a common area for students located on the building’s first floor.
“In the old building, we never had a place where undergrad and grad folks could come and hang out,” she said. “Now there are all kinds of students who sit and meet here, and all of this makes my heart proud.”
Also located on the building’s first floor is the renovated Rites and Reason Theatre — “one of the oldest continuously producing Black theatres in the nation,” according to the Africana Studies website.
Updates to Rites and Reason included improved audio and lighting fixtures, as well as the addition of dressing rooms and audience seating, three faculty members told The Herald.
Kathy Moyer, stage and production manager at the Department of Africana Studies and Rites and Reason Theatre, said she “loved” the changes and “can’t wait to be programming” shows in the updated theater. And Jones — who has worked in the department for more than 20 years — described the changes as “night and day.”
Churchill now also includes an elevator, a new accessible entrance and a terrace as well as book and art displays featuring works by previous faculty and alumni. In addition, the building’s floors, windows and furniture were all refurbished.
“It’s beautiful,” said Gina Rodríguez-Drix, events and performances manager at the Department of Africana Studies and Rites and Reason Theatre. “It's nice to be back in a space that has so much light and so much space for people to gather.”
Rooks said she looks forward to utilizing the new spaces and facilities to continue to expand the Africana Studies department.
“Right now, Africana at Brown all feels like potential,” Rooks said. “We now have the space to hire the faculty that we need, and to house them well.”
Samantha Chambers is a senior staff writer and has previously worked at The Herald as a copy editor. She is a second-year student from Tampa, Florida and is planning on concentrating in sociology.