Capital of little state big on art
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.