2019 WaterFire Year In Review

2019 WaterFire Providence Annual Report

A letter from our co-CEOs

As the decade and WaterFire’s first 25 years come to a close, it is a great time to take stock in what we’ve been able to accomplish thanks in large part to your support. 

Through your generosity, we are able to activate and transform downtown Providence and present engaging exhibitions and programming in our home, an inspiring 37,000 square foot multi-use WaterFire Arts Center, which has become an anchor institution in the burgeoning Valley/Olneyville neighborhood. 

This season we successfully launched our #Art4Impact initiative with WaterFire lightings and free of charge programming themed around the significant community impacts we create each year. WaterFire’s visitors represented 49 states and countries from every continent with some coming from as far away as China and New Zealand. In 2020, we look forward to building on the successes of our Summer of Science, Arts and Health, and Community Heroes event series in celebrating the best of Rhode Island.  

Nearly 10,000 people visited our exhibition “To the Moon and Beyond”, we hosted PVD Fringe Festival and over 20 nonprofits held fundraising events in our space, collectively raising millions of dollars for important community causes. Our educational mission was strengthened with the opening of The Wheeler School’s Cityside classroom in the WaterFire Arts Center. 

With the end of our fiscal year quickly approaching, please consider a special Year-End donation to WaterFire Providence’s Annual Fund.

 From all of us at WaterFire Providence, Happy Holidays! We are grateful to you, our close friends and supporters, for another remarkable WaterFire season and a year of exciting activities in the WaterFire Arts Center. With 25 years of history and experience, we look forward to all of the amazing opportunities the future offers! 

A look at the numbers

Financial statements

2019 WaterFire Providence Financial Highlights
2019 WaterFire Event Season

Our Inaugural #Art4Impact Event Series

The 2019 WaterFire season centered around our #Art4Impact series. Each fire fell within one (or two!) of our focus themes; Summer of Science, Arts & Health or Community Heroes. 

“An important event this season was July 20, 2019 which celebrated the 50th-anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing (to the very day, July 20, 1969!) and for the first time, WaterFire incorporated programming at the WaterFire Arts Center that tied into the lighting downtown. We had various art installations (the enormous “Museum of the Moon”, an 85’ long Milky Way mural, etc.), lectures, talks – for which over 10,000 people come to the WFAC! Tremendous… This sets us up for 2020 and the programming we are planning to do…”

– Ed Cabral, Manager of Sponsorships and Corporate Relations

Forging connections betweem the arts and science


The Summer of Science series strengthened the connections between art and design and science and technology within our community. We celebrated the historic 50th-anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and man’s first steps on the Moon with month-long programming and community events that introduced participants to the marvels of astronomy. Rhode Island is expanding opportunities for tech and we are beginning to see more and more tech companies become interested in establishing a presence in our state. At our TechFire we gave representatives of these startups a platform to recruit employees and showcase how they will positively impact our city and state. 


Healing and raising awareness


Partnering with organizations whose mission is the health of our population brought about some of our most personal, life-changing events of the season as part of our Arts & Health series. Our Recovery, C is for Cure and Flames of Hope fires recognized the advancements our medical professionals have made in curing and educating people on hep C, addiction and breast cancer awareness as well as rallying behind those in our community who have survived or are still fighting these challenges.


Celebrating people making an impact


Our Community Heroes series highlighted local educators and veterans. Our Salute to Veterans Fire continues to be one of our most impactful events of the season and this year we honored women who have served.  Together with the community we celebrated our successes in education across Rhode Island, showcasing interesting and successful projects, and commending teachers and educators who have been recognized for excellence. 


We're all part of the WaterFire Community

Visitors At A Glance

WaterFire Visitor Stats

Faces in the Crowd

A Hub For The Arts In Olneyville

WaterFire Arts Center

Over 26,500 people came to the WFAC in 2019. 24 non-profits utilized the space for fundraising, networking, events and showcases, 10 of which were arts organizations. Another 24 local business and partners utilized the space for galas, tradeshows, industry markets, and commercial photography and videography projects.

2019 also saw the return of FRINGEPVD, Providence’s annual theater and performance art festival presented in association with The Wilbury Theatre Group. We also co-presented the To the Moon and Beyond: Celebrating the 50th-Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing with Art, Science, and Exploration exhibition with Brown University and the NASA RI Space Grant Consortium.

Interdisciplinary learning for tomorrow’s citizen stakeholders

Cityside at Wheeler

In 2019, Wheeler School launched The Cityside Program that moved the 8th grade class into its permanent home at the WFAC. Director Joe Baer and his students focus on civic engagement through project based learning and research and through growing relationships with nonprofits and community groups. Students work on projects that expand their understanding of the city they live in, and impact their community in positive ways. WaterFire is teaming up with Cityside in 2020 on a new project that will bring leaders of the community to WaterFire Arts Center to discuss issues relevant to citizens, ranging in topics from local politics to urban revitalization.

“When students arrive at the Cityside Studio at the WaterFire Arts Center, the space itself and the behind-the-scenes look at an array of programs and events energizes their day. WaterFire Providence staff are generous with their talent, creativity and community spirit which enlivens our students’ learning. Our dynamic affiliation and shared purpose is evident in both fleeting interactions and bigger ideas on the horizon.”
– Joe Baer, Director of Cityside at Wheeler

Woonasquatucket River Greenway Arts is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town initiative

Woonasquatucket River Greenway Arts

A series of site-specific performances and temporary artworks demonstrating the potential for a public art park along the banks of Providence’s historic urban waterway. The Dirt Palace storefront window gallery began hosting Greenway Arts installations focused on the Woonaquatucket and its watershed in fall 2018. Installations by Keri King and Brendan Rose and animal habitats by The Steel Yard were put on view the last week of July 2019 during PVD Fringe Festival and remained on view through October 2019.

On July 27 the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, lead cultural partner WaterFire Providence, Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, and collaborators staged a culminating celebration along the Greenway, highlighting the potential for a permanent linear art park connecting downtown to emergent arts institutions and diverse residential neighborhoods. As part of this event, the Manton Avenue Project reprised excerpts of “The Olneyville Plays” and “The Woonasquatucket River Play” on the banks of the Woonasquatucket River at Riverside Park. Wilbury Theatre Group held The Olneyville Expo, a chautauqua-style tent revival at Donigian Park. WaterFire Providence and Barnaby Evans created a new site-specific lighting installation, Moon River, on the river between Eagle Square and the Acorn Street Bridge.


Spring and Holiday Art Festivals at the Waterfire Arts Center

WaterFire Art & Craft Festival

This year we brought part of the WaterFire experience home to the WaterFire Arts Center. In April and again in November the popular local arts marketplace WaterFire’s Arts Festival Plaza was presented as a free community in the main hall of the WFAC. Like our downtown installation, our Spring Season Kick-off and Holiday themed arts & crafts festival were presented in partnership with Mike Bryce and the PVD Artisans Market.

Featuring over 75 artist vendors, live local music, food trucks, living statues, and even Santa Claus these two community events brought thousands of new visitors into the WaterFire Arts Center. By supporting the shop local movement these events not only help support WaterFire Providence but also build the local economy of artists and makers that live and work in Rhode Island. By bridging the gap between our downtown WaterFire lighting and community programming at the WaterFire Arts Center we are working to bring the power of creative placemaking to a more diverse cross-section of Providence. Like the Woonasquatucket river that connects Olneyville to Waterplace Park Art flows throughout the city.


Working behind the scenes to create place and build community

People of WaterFire

Making moves and building capacity

Our Staff

As we head into a new decade and embark on the next 25 years, we are proud to report that our team is stronger than ever. This past year saw the formation of a new Development Team and a restructuring that enables a refreshed fundraising approach. Long time WaterFire employee Laura Duclos joined the Leadership team after completing 10 years with the organization. Laura, our director of creative services, started out as an intern with us in 2009 and has been a catalyst for progress. Congratulations Laura and thank you for all your hard work. 

Follow them on Instagram @WaterFireInterns

This year Jerry Suggs, our Manager of Educational and Institutional Programming, managed to connect us with 51 interns from 27 schools. Each one of these students was key to the success of the events, the lead up to the events and the behind the scenes daily tasks that keep our organization thriving. 

“Being able to work with such a small staff has benefitted all of us. We’re not interns in a typical sense…we’re working right along side the staff doing the same work and getting real experience from the field you want to be in.” – Elissa Pierce, Social Media + Photography Intern

“I have grown so much through my WaterFire experience… I think one of the biggest things I learned is that your passions can be in the workplace. I can do things that I’m passionate about for a company both benefitting them and helping me stay creative and motivated.” – Brooke Viscera, Videography Intern

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Volunteer News

New Volunteer Captains Cohort

Five volunteers became WaterFire Captains at the end of the 2019 Season. Our Veteran Captains would participate in one on one training with the Captains in Training–from the training techniques to the learning styles all of the trainees took in a wealth of knowledge from not only the Veteran Captains but our Production team as well. They all put in over 50 hours of volunteer hours from captains training in the offseason, to showing up in the morning to build the braziers and then at night for the event. These volunteers were very dedicated and put in a lot of time and effort. Not only did they excel at learning how to drive the boats for WaterFire but they helped with multiple different projects here at the Arts Center as well. They were always going above and beyond.

For the Community By the Community

WaterFire Volunteers at Work

WaterFire Providence

Board of Directors

Judy Bentkover
Roger Bergenheim 
Barrett Bready
Peter Van Erp, secretary
Barnaby Evans, founder, executive artistic director and coCEO
Barry Fain
Stephanie Fortunato
Leslie Gardner
Erica Guatieri, treasurer
Sean Holley
Peter Mello, managing director and coCEO
Charles Meyers
Barbara Mullen
Elizabeth Myers 
Charles Newton
Jim Prescott, chair
Mark Scott, vice chair
Ann Scott
Joan Slafsky
Liu Wang

We would like to welcome our newest cohort of WaterFire Board members.

Dr. Barbara Mullen is the Women Co-Director of the Learning Leader Network for the Center for Leadership and Educational Equity in Providence and recent recipient of a YWCA Women of Acheivement Award. Dr. Mullen sits on the Strategic Planning committee at WaterFire. 

Dr. Liu Wang is the Associate Professor of Finance at Providence College and is a CFA, CAIA and Certified Financial Planner. Dr. Wang sits on the Finance committee at WaterFire.

Erica Guartieri is a CPA who started her own firm in 2018. She is the newest member of the WaterFire Board of Directors and sits on the Finance and Executive committees.

A New Future for WaterFire

Dredging of Providence's Rivers

Behind every successful WaterFire evening there is a planning process that has evolved into an exact science. We are reminded more and more frequently as our climate shifts that nature is powerful and unbending. In order to continue to provide the creative placemaking experience that is WaterFire, we are learning to adapt and work alongside the elements in a sustainable way. 

“WaterFire closed early this season to accommodate the State’s much needed dredging of the rivers downtown to improve navigation for the boating community. With the new pedestrian bridge, the extended river walks, the new riverfront parks, and now safer navigation on the rivers, Providence has expanded the great community vision of placing our historic harbor at the heart of our renewed city. For twenty-five years WaterFire has worked to show Providence in a proud new light and with improved navigation we look forward to a bright future.” -Barnaby Evans, Executive Artistic Director

Photographs courtesy of the Providence River Boat Company.

We did it!

Together we make #Art4Impact
Looking back and planning for the future - the best is yet to come.

Celebrating 25 Years of WaterFire!

A special thanks to our photographers, videographers, and producers:

Luis Andrade, Tom Backman, Jen Bonin, Duane Brouillette, Drew Christhilf, Yvonne Coyle, Erin Cuddigan, Matthew Huang, Armin Kososki, Tim Labonte, Tom Lincoln, Luke Mello, Jeff Meunier, Kevin Murray, Chloe Nanian, John Nickerson, Ken Panciera, Laura Paton, Peoneemoull Pech, Jake Perrone, Kelly Riley, Norma Smith, Jeff Stolzberg, Noah Tavares, Michael Tollestrup, and Jon Waugh

See you in the Spring!