Adrienne Brown appointed director of UChicago’s Arts + Public Life initiative

Adrienne Brown, associate professor in the Departments of English and Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity and in the College, has been appointed director of the University of Chicago’s Arts + Public Life (APL) initiative, a dynamic hub of exploration, expression and exchange on the South Side of Chicago that centers people of color and fosters neighborhood vibrancy through the arts.

“Adrienne has forged innumerable artistic connections between the University and various community partners,” said Provost Ka Yee C. Lee. “Her strong leadership will help Arts + Public Life continue to develop innovative ways of engaging our neighbors and civic partners in and through the arts.”

Launched in 2011, APL provides residencies for Black and Brown artists and creative entrepreneurs, arts education for youth, and artist-led programming and exhibitions. APL operates from the Arts Block, a vibrant collection of cultural and commercial spaces developed by the University along Garfield Boulevard between Prairie Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood.

Brown, whose scholarship focuses on American and African American cultural production in the 20th century, emphasizing the history of perception as shaped by the built environment, has served as APL’s interim director since 2021. Under her leadership, APL opened the L1 Creative Business Accelerator and Retail Store and expanded projects in creative entrepreneurship and community wealth creation. In collaboration with the APL team, Brown helped lead the development, design and programmatic vision of the Arts Lawn, the latest addition to the Arts Block, opening in 2022. She also led the implementation of APL’s strategic framework and worked closely with the South Side Home Movie Project team to strengthen APL’s focus on archiving and cultural preservation.

“For the past 10 years plus, APL has been a beacon of creative engagement, a forum for extraordinary innovation in the arts and a demonstration of how an urban university can support the efflorescence of creativity in its midst,” said David Levin, senior advisor to the Provost for the arts. “Adrienne Brown’s scholarship has been decisive in enabling us to grasp the historical, political and aesthetic forces undergirding the development and disposition of urban communities of color in the United States. Building on the work done at APL over the course of the past decade under the leadership of Theaster Gates and Jacqueline Stewart, and with the support of the brilliant team at APL, it will be exciting to witness APL’s continued successes as it moves into its second decade.”

With Valerie Smith, Brown co-edited the volume Race and Real Estate, an interdisciplinary collection that rethinks narratives of property and citizenship. Her book, The Black Skyscraper: Architecture and the Perception of Race, recovers the skyscraper’s drastic effects not only on the shape of the city but the racial sensorium of its residents. Brown is currently working on a book that charts how Americans experienced residential space as a social, spatial and racial unit during the move to mass homeownership in the United States in the 20th century. She has published pieces in catalogs for the Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Architectural Biennial and the Venice Architecture Biennial; in artists’ books by Marshall Brown and Desiree van Hoek; and in Public Books, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Foreign Policy, Curbed, Disegno, Harvard Design Magazine, American Quarterly, PMLA, Poetry Magazine, Twentieth Century Literature, Modern Fiction Studies, Log 42 and Criticism.

“Arts + Public Life has partnered with some of the most talented artists, performers, curators and teachers in the city to promote work that engages and moves audiences in Washington Park and the greater South Side,” Brown said. “I am thrilled to be a part of the skilled and visionary community at APL to further its core mission of artistic exploration, expression and exchange rooted in place.”

Brown succeeds Jacqueline Stewart, Professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and in the College, as director of APL.