PROVIDENCE – Without consulting the artist and owner of the work, in a statement late Thursday afternoon, Brown University announced it had cancelled the display of a Detroit home once owned by the family of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
The school’s statement cited an unspecified dispute over the house. It read: “It is out of deep respect for the legacy of Rosa Parks and what it represents for America that the University feels it cannot responsibly move forward with the exhibit of the house, previously set to open April 3.”
Ryan Mendoza, the artist behind the installation of the home, first heard about the news while reconstructing the building at its temporary exhibit space at nonprofit arts organization WaterFire Providence.
Mendoza, who said he was not given any forewarning from Brown, said he was “baffled and quite stunned” by the move.
Mendoza called for a stronger partner in the exhibition of the Parks home and said the cancellation was as if Brown had “crept away in a moment of difficulty.”
“I just hate cowards” he added. “Brown has slipped out of the backdoor of this project very nefariously.”
Mendoza believes the unforeseen cancellation could have been triggered by a Thursday editorial outlining the Brown family’s ties, and therefore the university’s links, to the U.S. slave trade. The piece, entitled “The Rosa Parks University that Isn’t,” was published by Deadline Detroit. Therein, Mendoza cites a previous failed effort to rename the Ivy League university in light of the school’s ties to the U.S. slave trade and calls for a reinvigorated campaign to do so.
Relocation of the home from Berlin, Germany, to WaterFire Providence was orchestrated by Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice as part of a multi-pronged education exhibit focused on the civil rights movement from April 3 to June 4.
According to the Thursday statement, the educational exhibit will now take place on the school’s College Hill campus sans the home.
WaterFire Providence Executive Artistic Director Barnaby Evans did not immediately return a request for comment.
The statement also claims the work will be “immediately” repacked and sent to the next destination on its artistic tour. Mendoza said the school made that claim without contacting him.
“It is so incredibly brazen of them to say that without even consulting me first,” said Mendoza regarding the now-in-question future of the exhibit.
Citing support from Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, WaterFire Providence and Brown faculty members, he said, “Everybody is dedicated to this project except for Brown [administration].”
As of Thursday afternoon, Mendoza said the next destination for the house has “yet to be determined” but said the statement from Brown will not alter community-wide plans to display the home in Providence.
Per Providence Business News reporting, multiple local organizations are vying to promote the exhibit as a tourism attraction while it is in town.
Kristen Adamo, vice president of marketing for the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the home would fit in among historic tours of the city’s West Side and East End focused on patterns of immigration.
“Each of them [tells] a different story that could work. The West Side tour tells the patterns of immigration and the challenges faced by people as they immigrated through America. There is that underlying current of struggle,” she said.
The home, which was owned by Parks’ brother, was acquired by Mendoza in 2016. Mendoza had it dismantled and shipped to his Berlin home. Looking for a way to return the structure to U.S. soil, he contacted Brown, which agreed to arrange the planned Providence exhibit.