PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Before the novel coronavirus began spreading across the U.S. in 2020, Jason Tranchida created graphics and brand experiences with his creative agency LLAMAproduct. His partner, Matthew Lawrence, ran Law and Order Party, a popular arts and culture newsletter.
But as COVID-19 shuttered galleries, theaters, concert halls and conference centers, work and income dwindled for the Providence-based pair.
“I wasn’t comfortable telling people to leave the house, so then I just did six months of scrambling,” Lawrence said of planning for Law and Order Party content. “I wrote in the newsletter, ‘Here’s an outdoor thing you can see from your car! Here’s a Zoom opera!’ But people just got tired of all that after a while.”
Isolated at home, Tranchida and Lawrence turned their attention to a new creative project: Scandalous Conduct, a multimedia exploration of a little-known 1919 U.S. Navy effort to entrap and prosecute gay men in Newport, R.I. The duo had plenty of spare time, but they were short on funds, equipment, performance space and sound advice.
That’s where the Brown Arts Institute came in.
For the last two years, BAI — an arts research enterprise at Brown University that promotes innovative and interdisciplinary creative arts and arts scholarship through curriculum and program development— has worked closely with the two creators as they shed light on a hidden piece of Rhode Island history. In Spring 2020, the institute awarded them funds as part of an Artist Development Grant program intended to help keep Ocean State artists afloat amid the pandemic. Throughout much of 2020 and 2021, they logged on to Zoom for monthly brainstorming and critiquing sessions with Sophia LaCava-Bohanan, associate director of partnerships and engagement at BAI. In Spring 2021, they came to the Brown campus for a public conversation about their creative projects. And in a November 2022 residency at Brown’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, they worked with Brown students and community artists to bring a century-old story to life on film.
“BAI offered support to our project early on and has continued to do so,” Tranchida said. “We met with Sophia for monthly check-ins where she would ask us about our progress and we would spitball ideas, and that was fantastic for our creative process. And with this residency, we got access to a performance space and equipment we don’t have at home.”