Frequently Asked Questions about the Performing Arts Center

Brown is committed to the full integration of the arts into a complete liberal arts education. We know that addressing some of the world’s most vexing challenges benefits from the creative problem-solving enabled by people who have studied and experienced the arts.

This means increasing access to the arts among students from all academic disciplines — from the humanities, to international affairs, to the sciences — and creating new opportunities for teaching, research, artmaking, performance and experimentation. This also means attracting thought leadership from scholars and cultural institutions well beyond Brown.

The University launched the Brown Arts Initiative to lead these efforts and more. And a new, state-of-the-art performing arts center will be essential in Brown’s ability to achieve those goals.

Yes. Though the focus is academic, the new center is envisioned as an asset to the local community as well; performances will be open to the public, as is the case with most events at Brown today.

The University’s target completion date is Spring 2022.

The building will include a state-of-the-art main performance hall that will transform into any of five vastly different stage/audience configurations — ranging from a 625-seat symphony orchestra hall to a 250-seat proscenium theater to an immersive surround-sound cube for experimental media performance.

The Diana Nelson and John Atwater Lobby will sit within the building’s horizontal “clearstory,” which slices through the building’s façade at stage level to enable performances, rehearsals and arts scholarship to extend into the Brown campus and local neighborhood, inviting the community to witness and engage in the creation of art within the building.

Below street level, three custom-designed spaces for theater, music and dance will inspire generations of talented performing artists to create cutting-edge, original artwork. Each includes a control room and customizable performance equipment; they can function as studios, classrooms, stages or meeting spaces.

Full details are included on the Project Details page. ​

The PAC and will be managed and programmed by the Brown Arts Initiative, which represents a consortium of departments and programs at Brown, including the David Winton Bell Gallery, History of Art and Architecture, Literary Arts, Modern Culture and Media, Music, Rites and Reason Theatre/Africana Studies, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, and Visual Art.

Brown’s original plan for the PAC, as approved by the Corporation in May 2017, situated the building on a plot between Angell and Waterman streets on the west side of The Walk. The site encompassed six structures — one that would have remained, one that would have been relocated and four that would have been demolished.

Brown’s revised plan for the PAC, unveiled in February 2018, shifts the building north to a smaller plot on The Walk between Angell and Olive streets, facing the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. The shift in site required the relocation of only a single structure (Sharpe House on Angell Street) and no demolitions.

The plan also reduces the above-ground footprint of the proposed building. Because there is no bus tunnel beneath the smaller site, more of the programming space can be moved underground.

In Fall 2017, Brown launched a process to collect input from local Providence community members for an Institutional Master Plan amendment outlining details of the PAC. Concurrently, the University began in-depth work with students, faculty and staff to validate preliminary plans for the building’s interior spaces. As a result of those processes, Brown developed the revised plan for the PAC.

During the months-long community engagement process that collected public input, common concerns were focused on preserving historic buildings, maintaining the character of the neighborhood and planning for traffic and parking impacts. Brown takes very seriously those concerns and in considering the revised plan, the University continued to examine these impacts on neighborhoods.

In addition, the University had initially considered situating the PAC on the revised site (between Angell and Olive streets), but thought it might be too small. But through the program validation process, Brown re-examined its assumptions and found the smaller plot is feasible.

The revised plan will simultaneously enable Brown to achieve its academic goals and address many of the concerns expressed by community members, including the preservation of historic buildings.

The PAC is an academic building with a significant undergraduate presence. A College Hill location with adjacency to other arts-centered academic facilities in the heart of Brown’s campus is essential. The site must be easily accessible not just to students who concentrate in the arts, but to undergraduate from a wide range of academic disciplines who wish to integrate the arts into their course of study.

A chemistry concentrator, for instance, should be able to work on a research experiment in the lab, head to the PAC for her music rehearsal, and then go to math class. The site must allow undergraduates to access the space during the course of their typical routines; class schedules allow for 10 minutes between classes, not enough time for travel to or from the Jewelry District.

In considering potential PAC sites, Brown closely studied several sites, ruling out others because they do not meet the academic requirements. The University also carefully considered impact on neighborhoods, including removal of trees, negative impact on businesses and direct impact to residents. ​

As Brown has outlined a strategy for the physical growth of its campus in the coming years, its vision is for two tightly linked, complementary campuses on College Hill and in the Jewelry District.

Facilities for undergraduate education will remain on College Hill, and growth on College Hill is being centered on undergraduate-focused academic activities, particularly those that require the close collaboration among students and faculty for which Brown is known. Given its proximity to health care and commerce, the Jewelry District is a natural home for Brown facilities related to scientific research, medical education, graduate study, administrative offices and residential space for graduate and medical students.

This approach advances Brown’s work in recent years to “consolidate the core”— clustering academic growth on College Hill near the heart of that campus, adapting historic buildings for reuse and maintaining the campus envelope by avoiding expansion into perimeter neighborhoods. This principle is consistent with the City of Providence’s established goals for an institutional zone, namely to allow for University growth in a manner that protects the surrounding neighborhoods, and is true to Brown’s commitment to consolidating its core and preserving as much as possible the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

The PAC is an academic space that relies on its location in the academic core of Brown’s campus to allow it to serve students from all academic concentrations, and to allow innovative collaboration with the physical sciences, entrepreneurship, social sciences and the entire range of fields of study at Brown. A site on College Hill is fundamentally important to meeting the academic goals for the building. ​

The revised site puts the PAC at the heart of a cluster of arts facilities that includes the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, and Rites and Reason Theatre. This has important implications for undergraduate who study the arts and spend significant amounts of time in many of those facilities.  

Just as importantly, locating the PAC centrally on campus, adjacent to the Granoff Center, makes it possible for students who do not concentrate in the arts to participate without necessitating, for example, that they choose between the orchestra and taking critical classes in their disciplines or across the curriculum. In a recent semester, the Brown Orchestra had students from 31 different academic concentrations, ranging from anthropology and applied math, to English and environmental studies, and music, public policy and visual arts.

About 60 percent of Brown undergraduates now declare the arts as their principal co-curricular interest, demonstrating that the need for a major academic rehearsal and performance space has become a critical need.

In Fall 2017, Brown launched a process to collect input from local Providence community members for an Institutional Master Plan (IMP) amendment outlining details of the PAC. That process included a series of public meetings, conversations with local community groups and presentation to Providence’s City Plan Commission.

During the months-long community engagement process, common concerns were focused on preserving historic buildings, maintaining the character of the neighborhood and planning for traffic and parking impacts. Brown takes very seriously those concerns and in considering the revised plan, the University continued to examine these impacts on neighborhoods.

In developing and maintaining its IMP, Brown continually assesses the impact of campus projects on neighborhood traffic and parking.

Most recently, Brown commissioned Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) to perform a comprehensive traffic study to inform the plans outlined in the IMP approved by the City of Providence in 2017. The study collected data on vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, outlined factors including transit services and parking availability, and found that the major projects presented in the IMP were not expected to negatively impact the area’s transportation system in the short- or long-term. The proposed site for the PAC was selected considering pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns.

The building is expected to generate little, if any, additional street traffic or demand for parking.

Although the building will host events open to the public in the same manner as so many other Brown academic events, many PAC performances will simply be redirected from where they already are occurring in existing venues (i.e., Salomon Center, Alumnae Hall, Sayles Hall) near the proposed site. These existing venues have similar or greater seating capacities (Salomon 101 is 543, Sayles is 500, Alumnae is 433).

The majority of attendees to PAC events will be students, faculty and staff, many of whom will walk, bike or take the bus, as they do currently for other events across campus. Historically, audiences for performances at Brown are composed of one-third students, one-third faculty members and one-third community members, meaning that two-thirds of the audience will either not need parking or already have established parking patterns.

In addition, the proposed site is conveniently located on the Brown shuttle route and is in close proximity to a nexus of high-frequency RIPTA bus lines on Thayer, Brook, Angell Street and Waterman streets. It’s also located along one of Brown’s primary pedestrian promenades, which ensures pedestrian access and connectivity. And it will include bike racks and amenities for cyclists.

In the limited instances when Brown shares project costs publicly, it does so only upon completion of the project.

To learn more about the arts at Brown, email [email protected].

To learn more about details of the project and its construction, please contact Brendan McCue in Facilities Management.

To learn more about fundraising for the PAC, contact Jeffrey Cabral in the Division of Advancement.