“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” – Stella Adler
Art is a symbol of the times. From Romanticism to Surrealism, art has been just as important as the written word. It documents the state of mind and the inner desires of a time period while playing an important role in the evolution of culture and self-expression. However, in the last decade many of the arts programs in schools have fallen victim to cutbacks and generations have been deprived of its positive influence.
While art education has fallen stagnant, modern technology has opened the door for a variety of new mediums as well as avenues to share art with the world. In an age where self expression has become more possible and accepted than ever, it is important to continue to support and nurture the arts not only as a form of expression but so that they may capture the evolution of our social norms as they celebrate the unique differences in people. Across the United States, many cities feature their own creative ways to support art and it’s survival. Providence, RI has started their own movement to celebrate the arts.
It is in the creative capital where a new festival is nurturing budding artists and providing the stage for growth. In a city with a long history rich in the arts it only makes sense that it be the platform to support artists. Providence is home of RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design, which is one of the best schools of art and design in the country. Artists flock to the city in search of pursuing their passions and finding a place with a strong foundation that will support their goals. Over the last two years Providence has featured the PVDFest which takes place at the beginning of June. It has become a communal body of art that represents the fun-loving historic city of Providence and honors artists.
This free outdoor festival has local, national, and international artists come to perform and share their talents. From dancers to steel working artists and eclectic brass bands to duct tape murals, there is an array of never before seen art. Vendors line the streets selling their crafts and delectable goodies while artists perform, dance, sing, create, and inspire crowds of people.
The brains behind the movement is Mayor Jorge Elorza. Elected in 2014, Mayor Elorza wanted to create an event to showcase the amazing subculture of arts within Providence and provide an outlet for artists to display their talents against the backdrop of the creative capital. It is a festival about supporting the arts and creating an environment of self-expression. This not only benefits current artists but opens the channels of encouragement for future generations and develops a full circle system of support.
In order to support and create such an all-encompassing festival, it has taken a lot of vision to bring it all together. Many community groups, cultural organizations, and volunteers join together to build such a special event. This year, the hours of work and planning culminated into an amazing festival where everywhere you looked you could see art and performances each so different and spectacular in their own right. There was also a parade with Grand Marshals Howard Ben Tre and Rose Weaver. They led the block-long party down the streets of Providence. It was moving to witness such a free form celebration of art where the community and artists danced and engaged as one over a common goal.
One of my favorite experiences at PVDFest was the art walk put on in partnership with The Avenue Concept and Close-Act Theatre. The Avenue Concept is an organization striving to inspire the people of Providence to engage with public art, and it has started the INFLUX project which features 20 pieces of public art throughout Providence. From sculpture to mural, these amazing pieces are all so different from one another they manage to capture a vast diversity of mediums. People gathered for a guided tour of the art on display through INFLUX and received the history of each piece. During the tour, dancers and performers in costumes and stilts from the Close-Act Theater (from the Netherlands!) accompanied the walk and performed.
In culinary art, Providence has the most restaurants per capita which means the city is brimming with incredible dining each with its own ambiance. The culinary school Johnson & Wales is also located in the city which contributes to the variety of delectable options that make up the stomach of Providence. I had the pleasure of eating at a handful of amazing restaurants each with its own signature tastes and atmosphere.
The Rosendale is a gastro pub with creative and thoughtful combinations of food and drinks like the Bacon on a Date flatbread pizza. It is artfully made with garlic butter, mozzarella, gorgonzola, dates, red onion jam, and Applewood smoked bacon. While you’re there you also have to try the dessert! A shot of the banana infused whiskey is a great end to a spectacular meal. At Circe, the upscale atmosphere and rich, flavorful dishes like the Bacon Wrapped Angus Tenderloin make for an amazing night in the city. (They also had what I can only describe as the best pancakes of my life!) The beautiful almost southern plantation feel of the historic building was the perfect setting for brunch or dinner. It is here that I also had the chance to try a martini with an edible flower!
The businesses and the community of Providence make up the backbone of PVDFest. Local businesses eagerly open their doors representing the city and serving the thousands of people that arrive to experience the festival. The awarding winning Providence Flea featured over 50 vendors with amazing one of kind gifts that are known as the best in New England. Everything from clothes and jewelry to photography and special pieces for the home could be found right at the Flea (which is also open every Sunday from 10-4).
Visitors searching for historic attractions can take incredible tours of the city from the Providence River Boat Company where the knowledgeable Captain Tom offers boat rides in the local waterways. The Captain offers insight on the city’s long history and the stories behind the many bridges, buildings, and antiquities all over Providence. It should be on the must do list for any visitor. There are also romantic gondola rides from La Gondola. This company has authentic Venetian Gondolas, and they even serenade riders with Italian songs! They offer rides for families, couples (they helped arrange an engagement on a gondola!) and everyone in between. The gondola rides have amazing ambiance, and it is a lovely way to see the city.
It is the over 700 artists that make up the heart and soul of PVDFest. Artists from Providence, across the country and around the world apply to snag a spot in the three day festival. Stages are set up through the streets and artists perform their trade to the passing crowds. Baring their souls, the artists line the walkways like exotic flowers blooming across the city. There are acts like the contemporary dance group known as Doppleganger Dance Collective founded by Shura Baryshnikov (daughter of Mikhail Baryshnikov) and Danielle Davidson to help make dance more accessible to the community. There were also local artists known as The Steel Yard that performed blacksmith demonstrations with their 100-year old coal forge. They have even made their own custom blacksmithing trailer where they worked for crowds during PVDFest. Hundreds of other artists performed and made the second annual PVDFest a success.
PVDFest is becoming a one of a kind experience filled with the beauty of unique talents and artists from Providence and around the world. It is a safe harbor for the world of art at a time when it is threatened by a lack of support and awareness. PVDFest is reviving the love, passion, and excitement of art and giving artists the chance to share their work. It is one of the many amazing attractions Providence has to offer.
I was hosted by Providence, RI and PVDFest. All opinions remain my own.