Formerly housed in the top floor of the West Union, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black culture is relocating to a two-storied venue in the Flowers building.
Administrators expect to open the new center in early October. The space will be significantly larger, featuring two floors rather than one. In addition to its regular weekly events, The Mary Lou will also resume jazz sessions on Tuesdays on the first floor of the Flowers building.
Members of the community have expressed excitement at the options the Mary Lou's expanded space will provide.
"Because the new location has two floors, there is an opportunity for different types of programming," said senior Marcus Benning, president of the Black Student Alliance. "In the previous Mary Lou Center only one floor was used for programming, so this will create some new opportunities for us."
Benning noted the important role the Mary Lou's jazz programs play in on-campus black culture.
“Jazz at the Mary Lou has become a staple event,” Benning said. “You’ll find people from all different backgrounds come to enjoy jazz, which has become a focal point of African American culture.”
John Brown, professor of the practice of music and director of the Duke Jazz Program, said he hopes the new space will attract a larger crowd to the center. Brown added that, though the center commonly "serves students," he hopes the renovations will help reach a greater audience.
"I expect the space will be exciting and inviting and encourage people to come out, and hopefully more people to come out than we have [had] before," Brown said.
This is the second time the Mary Lou center has relocated during his career, Brown added.
"Everything I've heard about it is that this is a marked improvement in every way," Brown said. "So I'm satisfied."
Tiana Horn, vice president of BSA, said the group will take advantage of the same space by hosting new programming such as Real Talk Thursdays, a weekly discussion hosted by the BSA that will enable the student community to talk about campus and current events. The first talk took place September 5 in the Von Canon Room, but Horn said the program will relocate to the Mary Lou upon its opening.
Overall, the community said the relocation is a positive change for the BSA and the Jazz Program.
“Black Student Alliance is really excited about the move,” Benning said. "We felt like we weren’t sacrificing anything in terms of visibility.”
Brown said the renovation of the center is indicative of how important it has become in the lives of community members.
“Since I started the [Jazz] Program...it has grown and evolved—it has really become a part of the fabric of Duke University," Brown said. "For me, it's become a safehold in the lives of the Duke community."