We moved rivers… had folks dance on skyscrapers,
together, we can make Providence more vibrant than ever!
In 2013, the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism (AC+T) and FirstWorks, a non-profit cultural organization dedicated to building community through firsts in the arts, were jointly awarded a second Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in the amount of $75,000. One of 59 grants awarded nationally, this funding was for design envisioning a cultural corridor in downtown Providence, and to establish the FirstWorks Festival on the Plaza as a biennial signature event in Providence. Leadership investments in the Festival have been made by The City of Providence, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rhode Island Foundation, and GTECH.
“This federal funding will enhance Providence’s efforts to use the arts as a catalyst for economic development. Encouraging creative activity and investing in the arts will pay dividends culturally and economically for the entire city,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed who oversees federal arts funding as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior.
The Festival initiative kicked off in September 2014 with the Urban Carnevale – an evening of music, art and spectacle at The Providence Rink that marked the 10th anniversary celebrations of both FirstWorks and the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism. AC+T convened a charrette for cultural leaders, residents, business owners, artists, students, academics, transit users, and other stakeholders who were asked to think creatively about how to transform Washington Street into a lively, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare that reflects the capital city’s vibrant cultural landscape.
In February 2015, propelled by Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s vision for a cultural destination festival, the Festival was renamed The Providence International Arts Festival and the dates were set for June 11-14, 2015 for an inaugural event. Among the lead community arts partners joining FirstWorks and AC+T are The Avenue Concept, a Creative Partner for public art, Providence’s Union Studios, working to illustrate the community vision for Washington Street; and youth-led design/build projects by DownCity Design and temporary artist installations for the June 2015 First Works on the Plaza.
Efforts to use public art programming to revitalize downtown Providence were piloted 2011 with support from a $200,000 Our Town grant that culminated in the success of the 2012 FirstWorks Festival: On the Plaza. The FirstWorks Festival, developed in collaboration between the City of Providence, FirstWorks and the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, along with18 partners and drew an estimated 40,000 people into downtown Providence.