Date September 23, 2023
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Brown honors skilled workers who brought the Lindemann Performing Arts Center to life

University leaders hosted a special celebration to recognize key project partners, skilled craft workers who dedicated hundreds of thousands of hours to the planning, design and construction of the state-of-the-art venue.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On a gray, rainy early-fall afternoon, Brown University’s new Lindemann Performing Arts Center was brimming with warmth, cheer, joy and excitement.

Leaders from the University and its Facilities Management and Brown Arts Institute teams hosted a Saturday, Sept. 23, celebration to honor the thousands of professionals who dedicated their time and talents at points over the last five years to the planning, design and construction of state-of-the-art performing arts center. Their work — which involved contributions from nearly 2,300 people in total — has enabled the University realize its long-held vision to establish a major hub for boundary-pushing performance and arts scholarship.

To pay tribute, Brown welcomed building designers, engineers, project managers and construction laborers and their spouses, partners and families, along with key project partners, including the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, Building Futures and Shawmut Design and Construction, for a celebratory afternoon on College Hill. A crowd upwards of 300 convened in the performing arts center to connect with peers, enjoy music and food, and tour the 101,000-square-foot venue.

Guests explored the Nelson Atwater Lobby and its “Infinite Composition” LED light sculpture, the center’s highly configurable main performance hall, and other spaces, including the Movement Lab and the William Riley Hall. In the building’s Performance Lab, kids and families cozied up in oversized bean bag chairs to enjoy a screening of the Pixar movie “Inside Out” while others played ring toss, Connect Four or colored custom Bruno-themed coloring sheets.

Most were excited to walk the building and marvel at the one-of-kind facility, knowing firsthand what it took to build the radically flexible space.

Cash Pina, a union ironworker from East Providence, R.I., was happy to welcome his girlfriend, Kendra Nunes, to show her the building’s steel staircases and handrails, among other hardware he fabricated and installed. Pina was also one of 95 union ironworkers who helped to erect the building’s structural framework. After working on the Brown construction site for 18 months, the celebration at the Lindemann, he said, made him feel valued.

“Some of us on the Brown job sometimes joked about when we might get our tickets in the mail for a performance or exhibit,” Pina said. “To actually have a celebration just for us, that’s a lot better — that’s special.”

Building the Lindemann

The Lindemann’s unique design, led by acclaimed architecture firm REX, features state-of-the-art technical, acoustical and spatial capabilities. Its main performance hall can transform into any of five vastly different stage and audience configurations — ranging from a 530-seat symphony orchestra hall, to a 275-seat proscenium theater, to an immersive surround-sound cube for experimental media performance.

Bringing the technically complex venue to life required collaboration between teams of project leaders, skilled craft workers and expert consultants. Rhode Island’s construction workforce, however, contributed the lion’s share of the crew members. Approximately 1,100 union construction workers across 18 local trades — including equipment operators, concrete and steel layers, roofers, drywallers, painters, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, theatrical equipment and lighting installers, and landscapers — contributed to the multi-year construction project, totaling nearly 475,000 hours of union labor.

At the Saturday celebration, University President Christina H. Paxson thanked the crews for their dedication and perseverance, noting that Brown’s long-standing partnership with the Rhode Island building trades has paved the way for the campus to now house some of the most sophisticated buildings in New England, the nation and the world.

“This was not a straightforward project — this is a one-of-a-kind, boundary-pushing, innovative building, and this project required all of you to push boundaries as well,” Paxson said. “All of this exemplifies what we’ve long known about our partners in the building trades. You are consummate professionals and problem-solvers, always ready to conquer a challenge. We could not advance our mission at Brown without you.”

Supporting construction careers

To deepen its economic impact and dedication to supporting careers for local residents, Brown signed an agreement in 2022 with the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 16 trade unions and 10,000 Rhode Island workers, committing the University to all-union labor for projects over $25 million. The landmark agreement also extended the University’s goal of ensuring that at least 15% of labor hours are performed by graduates of Building Futures, a Providence-based nonprofit apprenticeship program that helps low-income workers build skills and move into fruitful construction careers.

RIBCTC President Michael Sabitoni said Brown’s long-standing support of the construction trades serves as a regional economic engine and builds careers for local workers. During remarks at the celebration, Sabitoni pointed to union plumber Devyn Maher, a Building Futures graduate who began her career as an apprentice on the Lindemann Performing Arts Center job site.

“Devyn is a Building Futures graduate and a plumber and a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 51, and she started her career on this project,” Sabitoni said. “That’s the impact that’s changing people’s lives. Thank you, Brown University, for your impact on the economy and our community, and your impact on changing lives and offering opportunities to young men and women from diverse populations.”

Building Futures Executive Director Andrew Cortés said the celebration offered the construction laborers a rare opportunity to see the tangible result of their hard work.

“Very rarely, as tradespeople, do we get the opportunity to come back and see how the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Cortés said. “Each of us played a role. Each of us puts our blood, sweat and tears into making sure that a project like this with incredible functionality serving exceptional purpose comes together. This is bigger than just honoring our partnership with Brown University and the building trades — this is about honoring the building trades.”

More than 160 Building Futures apprentices trained on the performing arts center site, including Darrell LaFrance, a union carpenter. The Providence native worked on the Lindemann site for almost two years, framing walls, attaching insulation and adding drywall to interior wall systems. Like other Building Futures graduates, the Brown construction site was his first assignment following the pre-apprenticeship program. LaFrance said that first job at Brown helped set him up for success early in his career.

“Learning my craft at the performing arts center was hugely beneficial for me,” LaFrance said. “Because of the detail that went into it, I could learn at a level of incredible complexity, and it accelerated my knowledge and skill development. It’s improved my craft, and I am much more versatile now because of it.”

The Lindemann also served as a career catalyst for Jess Ryan. The union sprinkler fitter apprentice from Westerly, R.I., said she acquired more than half of her required on-the-job training hours on the Brown job site. She agreed that the building’s intricate design provided an unparalleled learning opportunity.

“I was able to work alongside others with 20-plus years in the field who had never seen a blueprint like this before,” Ryan said. “To be exposed to that and to gain that knowledge so early in my career is more than I could have ever imagined. The performing arts center is a staple in my apprenticeship and career.”

Ryan was eager to return to the Lindemann for the celebration and appreciated seeing how all the trades workers contributions came together.

“I appreciate returning to the job — it gives you a chance to look around and walk away feeling proud,” Ryan said. “It’s nice to see how the vision all comes together and how what starts as this big hole in the ground can turn into something truly amazing.”