Public conversation series to bring local artists, writers, musicians to Brown

With a focus on the greater Providence community, in-person conversations at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage will feature the work and ideas of creative public figures.

A new event series at Brown University promises to give local community members in Providence and beyond a chance to connect directly with artists, architects, writers, musicians and thinkers who bring their creativity to the public in unique ways.

The series, simply called “Conversations,” will take place in-person every Thursday throughout the University’s Fall 2021 semester, beginning Thursday, Sept. 9, at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage on Benefit Street. All events are free and open to the public.

Dietrich Neumann, who became director of the John Nicholas Brown Center in 2020, said the series was born out of a desire to connect more expansively with the Brown, Providence and Southern New England communities.

“Hosting a series of events with people who are creative and have a vision for the city of Providence, giving the public an opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversations — this is a big part of what public humanities are about,” Neumann said. “We want these events to bring about a true exchange of ideas, where people in the community can go to learn about public humanities initiatives in Providence and where we, in turn, can learn from Providence’s diverse community.”

The series kicks off with a talk by Martha Werenfels, a Brown alumna and Providence architect who specializes in historic preservation. Werenfels will share stories about some of her favorite preservation projects in the city and converse with attendees in a Q&A.

Other guests in the series include leaders from the Avenue Concept, the nonprofit behind Providence’s many colorful murals; Bob Azar, deputy director of Providence’s Department of Planning and Development and a professor of the practice of urban studies at Brown; directors of The Steel Yard, a former steel and iron manufacturing complex that a Brown alumnus helped transform into a hub of creative, cultural and economic activity in Providence; and Njaimeh Njie, the Edward Mitchell Bannister artist in residence at the John Nicholas Brown Center this year.

Neumann said he modeled the series after the Providence Athenaeum’s wildly popular event series, which even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic spanned multiple topics and formats, from author talks to craft nights to murder mystery parties to film screenings.

“At the center of the athenaeum’s series, and at the center of ours, is this idea that meaningful conversation is a linchpin of a thriving community,” Neumann said.  “I think there’s a thirst for a return to low-key yet still somewhat festive in-person events where conversations can really flourish, and so we’re thrilled to offer that.”

Conversations will take place every Thursday at 6 p.m. from Sept. 9 to Dec. 16, 2021, at the John Nicholas Brown Center at 357 Benefit St. in Providence. All conversations are free and open to the public. Space is limited; attendees are asked to RSVP at All visitors to Brown’s campus must comply with the University’s COVID-19 event visitor guidelines.