Cap­i­tal of lit­tle state big on art

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TRAVEL - MICHELLE R. SMITH

PROV­I­DENCE, R.I. — With a plethora of street art and a world-fa­mous de­sign school, Prov­i­dence pro­vides plenty to do for art-lov­ing trav­el­ers.

The cap­i­tal city of the small­est state in the United States is com­pact, and many of its most ap­peal­ing artis­tic at­trac­tions are within a short walk of one an­other amid the re­stored ar­chi­tec­ture of the city’s down­town and the Col­lege Hill neigh­bor­hood, which are strad­dled by the Rhode Is­land School of De­sign, known as RISD (pro­nounced RIZ’-dee). Trav­el­ers 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 in June. Else­where, pho­tog­ra­pher Mary Beth Mee­han’s gi­ant por­traits of city res­i­dents look down over down­town streets, part of her in­stal­la­tion ti­tled “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 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 are then set 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 event, started by artist Barn­aby Evans, has been go­ing for more than 20 years. It’s sched­uled to co­in­cide with the tides. In June, 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.


This gem of a mu­seum at the de­sign school 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 forth­com­ing ex­hibits are etch­ings from late 19th-cen­tury Paris, in­clud­ing work by 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 closed for ren­o­va­tions, but the work is ex­pected to wrap up at the end of this month.


Misty Blue by An­drew Hem, com­pleted in June, is one of the newest mu­rals dot­ting the walls of down­town Prov­i­dence, R.I. With a de­sign school, street art and mu­rals, the Rhode Is­land cap­i­tal has plenty to at­tract art lovers.

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