On March 31, the Yale Center for British Art hosted scholar Marisa Angell Brown, assistant director for programs at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritages at Brown University GRD ’14. Brown presented a lecture titled “Model City” — focused on modern architecture and leading architects in New Haven in the 1970s — as part of the Center’s “at home” online series.
The lecture was moderated by Michael J. Crosbie, professor of architecture at the University of Hartford. Brown’s lecture highlighted two low-income housing projects commissioned by Mayor Richard C. Lee in the 1960s: Crawford Manor and Church Street South, which was demolished in 2018.
“These stories have relevance today for a few reasons,” Brown told the audience. “[They mark] a period of radical cultural and political change which has to do with the racial injustice and inequity we see now.”
Brown is a cultural historian and curator interested in architecture, preservation, public art and spatial justice. Brown is particularly concerned with questions relating to spatial justice and systems of preservation and heritage: What gets to be preserved? And who gets to decide?
Throughout the talk, Brown emphasized the complex and lost histories of demolished sites. Brown prompted the audience to think about how architecture, public art and design of public spaces can support or mitigate change.
According to YCBA Director Courtney J. Martin, Brown was responsible for creating the “Urban Museum of Modern Architecture: New Haven” when she was a doctoral student in Yale’s History of Art department. The project designated New Haven as “a city of buildings,” and featured seven buildings — including the YCBA — which had been designed during New Haven’s period of urban renewal.
Martin told the News that since 2019, the YCBA has been dedicated in its attempts to connect with the city of New Haven. This talk presents another opportunity to explore the center’s relation with the city.
“Located in the final building designed by Louis I. Kahn, the center is a focal point for modernist architecture,” Martin said. “This conversation is the first in a series on architecture and museum design. [Brown] is the perfect person to kick off this initiative.”
According to Jane Nowosadko, head of public programs at the YCBA, the center is “one of the great examples of modernist architecture and museum design.” Due to its location in the heart of New Haven, Nowosadko said it makes sense for the YCBA to engage with issues of urban life in its programming. She added that the YCBA was the first museum in the country to include commercial entities in its building as a compromise with the city.
Martin said that New Haven is often “divided along economic lines.” She said she hopes the lecture enriches listeners’ understanding of New Haven’s socio-economic past and how it relates to architecture.
“I hope that those who may not be familiar with the distinguished architectural history of New Haven will come to know how the city’s approach to architecture has been a crucial component of its socio-economic outlook,” Martin said. “I also hope that Dr. Brown may help us to better understand the city’s past, so that we can find ways to contribute meaningfully to a path for the city’s future.”
The center’s “at home” series features guests that discuss a wide range of topics and in very different ways. Nowosadko told the News that the center is now inviting different voices to participate in its public programs and provide rich perspectives.
The center’s next “at home” event will host An-My Lê, a Vietnamese photographer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, in conversation with Mark Aronson, deputy director and chief conservator at the center, and Chitra Ramalingam, associate curator of photography at the center.
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