Art at Watson celebrates 10 years of art, education and community

For a decade, a committee of faculty, students and staff has brought more than 40 diverse exhibitions to Brown’s Watson Institute, amplifying the institute’s mission of promoting a just and peaceful world.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Ten years ago, then-director Richard M. Locke gazed down the corridors of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and knew they needed a touch more color and culture.

“[He] saw three long hallways with bare walls and came to me and said, ‘Could you please get some art on the walls?’” said Sarah Baldwin, who served as Watson Institute communications director at the time.

That began a decade-long effort to integrate art into the fabric of the Watson Institute. Baldwin convened a committee of faculty, students and staff to find and exhibit artwork that would not only amplify the institute’s mission to promote a just and peaceful world, but also draw in people from the Brown and Providence communities who might not otherwise come to its buildings on Thayer and Brook streets.

Thanks to the committee’s work, since 2013, visitors to the institute have taken in more than 40 installations of thought-provoking art by creators from within the Brown community, from the Providence area and from across the globe. Exhibitions have encompassed a wide array of artistic media, including paintings, photographs, digital art, comics and documentary films. 

Late in April, Art at Watson celebrated its 10th anniversary with "Art at Watson, Art in the World," a discussion featuring previously exhibited artists and curators. 

Art at Watson’s first exhibition featured a lifetime of paintings and drawings by Abbott Gleason, the institute’s former associate director — including some works he created after developing Parkinson’s disease. Subsequent exhibitions have explored the effects of a Tanzania plane crash on one family, the toll plastic waste has exacted on birds in the Pacific Northwest, and the connections between the Bollywood film industry and the societal expectations of women in India, among many other international topics. Many spotlight cross-disciplinary scholarship that tackles complex societal issues such as immigration, economic inequality and warfare.

The exhibitions are as diverse as the people within the Watson Institute and serve as an extension of the research and teaching happening there, Baldwin explained.

"There are different ways of understanding the world: data is one, science is one, and art is another,” Baldwin, still an acting member of the Art at Watson committee, said. "The ability of creative expression to create connections, generate empathy, spark conversation and provoke thought means that art can have a meaningful role to play.”

On Art at Watson’s 10th anniversary, three exhibitions are currently on display in and on the institute’s buildings; all are free and open to the public.

"Seeing Silicon Valley" is a large-scale outdoor installation featuring portraits of people who work and live in the California technology hub. The photos were taken by Providence photographer Mary Beth Meehan, known for work that challenges long-held assumptions. The installation can be viewed on the exterior walls of the Watson Institute's main building at 111 Thayer St. and inside Stephen Robert '62 Hall at 280 Brook St. The exhibition will be on display through Wednesday, May 31. 

"Congahead: A Journey through Six Decades of Latin Percussion" is an exhibition of dynamic photographs of Latin, jazz and pop musicians taken over the course of 60 years by Martin Cohen. And "Back to School: EPI Students Reflect on Unexpected Lessons" features mounted essays by currently and formerly incarcerated Emerson College students. Both exhibitions can be viewed on the second floor of 111 Thayer St. through Thursday, August 31, and Wednesday, June 7, respectively.

Coming to the Watson Institute in Fall 2023 is "Andrew Nixon: Inventions and Discoveries,” featuring work by a local artist and educator. The exhibition will merge the spheres of old-world etching, contemporary digital image-making and traditional printmaking techniques.

This story was adapted from a story by Pete Bilderback, a communications and outreach specialist at the Watson Institute.