From Water­Fire to street mu­rals

Art-lov­ing trav­ellers wel­comed in Prov­i­dence, R.I.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY MICHELLE R. SMITH

With a plethora of street art and a world-fa­mous de­sign school, Prov­i­dence pro­vides plenty to do for art-lov­ing trav­ellers.

The cap­i­tal city of the small­est state in the U.S. is com­pact and many of its most ap­peal­ing artis­tic at­trac­tions are within a short walk of each other amid the re­stored ar­chi­tec­ture of the city’s down­town and Col­lege Hill neigh­bour­hoods, which are strad­dled by the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, known as RISD (pro­nounced RIZ’-dee). Trav­ellers can take in much of the art with­out spend­ing a dime.

There has been an ex­plo­sion in high-qual­ity street mu­rals in the city’s down­town in the last sev­eral years. One, by Shep­ard Fairey, pays homage to Prov­i­dence, where Fairey, a 1992 RISD graduate, first got no­ticed with his “An­dre the Gi­ant Has a Posse’’ and “Obey Gi­ant’’ street art cam­paigns.

Mu­rals by artists, in­clud­ing Pol­ish artists Natalia Rak and Bezt, dot the land­scape down­town. The lat­est, An­drew Hem’s “Misty Blue,’’ de­pict­ing a girl amid fire­flies in a for­est, was com­pleted just last month. Else­where, pho­tog­ra­pher Mary Beth Mee­han’s gi­ant por­traits of city res­i­dents look down over down­town streets, part of her in­stal­la­tion en­ti­tled “SeenUnseen.’’

A few blocks from down­town, walk up the steep Col­lege Hill to Brown Univer­sity, and there are sev­eral sculp­tures on dis­play, in­clud­ing “Un­ti­tled (Lamp/ Bear),’’ a 23-foot (7-me­tre) baby-blue bear com­bined with a gi­ant desk lamp, by Swiss artist Urs Fis­cher, and “Idee di pietra (Ideas of Stone),’’ by Ital­ian artist Giuseppe Penone, a sculp­ture of a life-size tree, the branches of which hold a gi­ant boul­der.

Water­Fire, the city’s most fa­mous pub­lic art event, hap­pens more than a dozen times a year, and it’s free. Dozens of bra­ziers in­stalled in the city’s three down­town rivers are filled with cedar, which is then lit on fire. The fires are kept alive through­out the night by black-clad fire-ten­ders mov­ing silently on boats. Fire eaters and other per­form­ers, along with music, add to the at­mos­phere. The piece, cre­ated by artist Barn­aby Evans, has been go­ing for more than 20 years. It’s sched­uled to co­in­cide with the tides. Last month, the group be­hind the event opened the new Water­Fire Arts Cen­ter, which is meant to even­tu­ally serve as a hub for the cre­ative com­mu­nity, Evans said. He said it’s host­ing more than 100 per­for­mances dur­ing Fringe PVD July 24-29. This gem of a mu­seum at RISD punches far above its weight, with a per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of around 100,000 ob­jects, in­clud­ing notable pieces of An­cient Egyp­tian art, Asian art, tex­tiles, 20th cen­tury de­sign and Amer­i­can dec­o­ra­tive arts.

Among its cur­rent and up­com­ing ex­hibits are etch­ings from late 19th-cen­tury Paris, in­clud­ing work by artists in­clud­ing Edgar De­gas and Mary Cas­satt, and “Stranger than Par­adise,’’ which in­cludes works of dif­fer­ent styles and eras on the nat­u­ral world.

The mu­seum is free on Sun­days and the third Thurs­day evening of each month. Part of its fifth floor is cur­rently closed for ren­o­va­tions, but the work is ex­pected to wrap up at the end of next month.

Prov­i­dence is pop­u­lated with small shops sell­ing art and crafts made by lo­cal artists. Down­town’s Craft­land is filled with prints, jew­elry, felt cre­ations and other works by lo­cal artists in­clud­ing Rachel Blum­berg and Mered­ith Stern, as well as artists from a bit far­ther afield. Stock, on the city’s East Side, fo­cuses on house­wares, with a wide se­lec­tion of func­tional and dec­o­ra­tive pieces, many hand­made in Rhode Is­land and else­where in New Eng­land.


In this June 15 photo, pedes­tri­ans walk be­neath a pho­to­graph from Mary Beth Mee­han’s “SeenUnseen” in­stal­la­tion on a street in down­town Prov­i­dence, R.I. With a plethora of street art and a world-fa­mous de­sign school, the city pro­vides plenty to do for art-lov­ing trav­ellers.

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