As alumni gathered for the Black Alumni Reunion, Brown dedicated the transformed Churchill House

As alumni gathered for the Black Alumni Reunion, Brown dedicated the transformed Churchill House

“The story of African studies at Brown is, first and foremost, the story of ritual and reason, because that came before the department,” Rooks said. “The work of ‘Ritual and Mind’ is so intertwined in our studies that we consider ourselves an art department.”

In addition to the costume and props rooms, the basement of Churchill House now also houses a 30-person classroom with a range of technological capabilities, fully accessible bathrooms, and a foyer where visitors can view photographs and memorabilia that pay tribute to the history of Churchill House. and Africana Studies at Brown.

Meanwhile, the east side of the building contains a three-story glass addition that was created with the growing ranks of faculty in the department in mind. The space is home to new offices, a faculty library, and a lounge filled with rare books, journals, and other volumes that were stored in the conference room.

Many of the new spaces throughout Churchill House are a nod to graduate students, who previously had little space beyond a small set of desks and a lounge in the basement, Rooks said. A new common space on the main floor for graduate students includes tables, sofas, and space for lunchtime gatherings, quiet study time, and impromptu meetings. Private rooms allow graduate teachers to meet one-on-one with the undergraduate students they teach and mentor. They can also book a small meeting room with state-of-the-art audio-visual capabilities in the basement for meetings and classroom sections.

The west side of the building is now its main entrance, a change designed to enable awareness and increased use of the building, said Joanna Saltonstall, senior program manager in facilities management. The wheelchair ramp from Angell Street leads not only to the new Churchill House automatic doors, but also to a sunny furnished terrace overlooking The Walk.

Attendees gather and laugh in the parlor of Churchill's new home
The foyer of Churchill’s new home was a popular gathering place on October 27, as graduates toured the renovated building. Photography by Ashley McCabe.

“Even outside the building, the renovations respect the department’s overarching goal of becoming a gathering place for faculty, concentrators and the broader campus community,” Saltonstall said. “The balcony is another collaborative space that offers endless possibilities: it can be used as a space to relax between classes, to host receptions or even to give presentations.”

Last year, as news spread about plans to build Churchill House, Rooks said, her inbox filled with ideas for collaborative projects, interdisciplinary courses and original productions that could take place in the building’s new and improved spaces. She found the deluge not so much overwhelming as it was exhilarating.

From theatrical performances and visiting writers series, to art-making and emerging projects like creating an arts-based summer camp for Providence children, Rocks and her colleagues anticipate a wide range of interest and possibilities in the department’s newly renovated spaces.

“There is so much artistic creativity at Brown that almost every student’s primary language is artistic, even if they come to Brown to study computer science or engineering,” Rooks said. “By offering these courses and events that encourage creative thinking, we are sending the message that every student, every major, and every background is welcome at Churchill House.”

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