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2017 Year in Review

Not since 1994, the first year WaterFire illuminated the rivers that run through downtown Providence, has WaterFire Providence experienced a more important, exciting and oftentimes challenging year.  We are pleased to share some of the highlights below and are looking forward to 2018.

May 2017

Moving into the WaterFire Arts Center

In May 2017, an important, new chapter of the WaterFire story was opened when we moved into the WaterFire Arts Center in the Valley/Olneyville neighborhood. Again, thanks to your support, we are no longer placemakers without our own place. WaterFire now has its first permanent home in the community and an arts center, like no other in the region, that will host a wide range of exhibitions, events, and performances.

Ribbon Burning Ceremony

Featuring the inimitable Rose Weaver – June 19th, 2017

Highlights from the WaterFire Arts Center

Our inaugural year in our new home

The WaterFire Arts Center opened in May and has already received a number of prestigious awards and citations including:

We were also happy to host the Miriam Hospital Gala, Trinity Repertory Company’s Pell Awards Gala, the City of Providence’s Woonasquatucket Vision Plan charettes, InnerCity Geeks CareerDevs classes, and many other important cultural and civic events.

Staff Highlights

WaterFire is people powered by an incredible team of twenty one professional staff who support thousands of dedicated, talented volunteers that create the memorable art experiences that brings hundreds of thousand of visitors to downtown Providence each season.

This season we saw some valuable team members leave us for other opportunities and we welcomed aboard some extraordinary new young people who stepped right in with great enthusiasm and ideas. Adrienne Allard joined us from Harvard’s Museum of Natural History to lead our merchandising initiatives at the WaterFire event and in our new store in the WaterFire Arts Center. Allison Costa, a development professional with a variety of experiences, joined the philanthropy team to manage our internal systems and other fundraising activities including our popular FireBall. Recent URI graduates, Meaghan Corse, who joined the management support staff, and Ryan Devlin, who has responsibilities that traverse the volunteer and operations teams, have brought tremendous energy and fresh ideas to WaterFire Providence. Mike Boyd and Zack Brodeur are talented, hard working new members of our strong production team.

Adrienne Allard
Visitor Support & Store Representative

Mike Boyd
Production Team

Zack Brodeur
Production Team

Meaghan Corse
Management Assistant

Allison Costa
Development Associate

Ryan Devlin
Volunteer Logistics Assistant

We are proud of Laura Duclos, creative services manager and a member of the senior leadership team, being selected for and completing the Rhode Island Foundation’s Emerging Leaders program.

Barnaby Evans, WaterFire creator, executive artistic director and coCEO, received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Providence College in May and became artist in residence at Colgate University this Fall.

Finally, while this has been a year requiring all hands on deck, Corey Oberlander, special events coordinator, has done a masterful job in managing all of the new activities and events in the WaterFire Arts Center which is fast becoming the venue of choice for many galas and other events in Rhode Island.

Laura Duclos
Creative Services Manager

Barnaby Evans
Executive Artistic Director, coCEO

Corey Oberlander
Special Events Coordinator

We Love Our Volunteers!

WaterFire is more complex than it appears, it takes months of planning, coordination with state and local officials, the support of our generous sponsors and donors, and most importantly the physical presence, dedication and hard work of hundreds of volunteers to make each lighting a success. Volunteers are the heart and soul of WaterFire. Whether they are making lunch, building braziers, piloting the WaterFire Access program boat, greeting visitors, or helping during strike, the enthusiasm and esprit de corps that each individual adds to the equation truly make us a community that is greater that sum of its parts. 

A Community of Artists

A surprise around every corner!

WaterFire Providence has been consistently providing a platform for creative performers to showcase their talents for the last two decades and 2017 was no different! From The Voice contestant Emily Luther to the Navy Band Northeast in collaboration with the 88th Army Band, or the Narragansett High School Choirs and Jazz Band, WaterFire packed this season with over 75 of the best regional performers and performance groups. TEN31 Productions, Origami Master Andrew Anselmo, and Mime Artist Michael Grando all joined us for nearly every event this season as they continue as fixtures in the WaterFire event landscape. And who could forget our dazzling fire performers? Cirque De Light’s cast of characters continued to amazed the crowds alongside Benjamin Reynolds, Julia Jerome, Michael Kevin Farrell, and of course, Spogga!


July 25th - 29th, 2017 at the WaterFire Arts Center

With the WaterFire Arts Center now open to public, the event downtown is just the tip of the iceberg.  This year’s Fringe Festival in collaboration with Wilbury Theatre, which facilitated close to 50 unique independently produced performances, totaling close to a hundred individual showtimes.

“Since 2014 FringePVD has been bringing arts organizations throughout the city together to provide artists the opportunity to present their work in a way that supports each of them, where the artist receives 100% of all ticket sales for their performances. In addition to continuing to foster an environment of support for artists, our goal this year through our partnership with WaterFire and their beautiful new arts center, is to centralize the festival’s footprint to encourage our visiting artists and audiences to see more shows and engage with each other on a deeper and more meaningful way.”

Providence Fringe Festival Founder and Wilbury Theater Group Artistic Director Josh Short.

A crowd favorite!

Gendo Taiko

Gendo Taiko is Brown and RISD’s premier Japanese drumming group. Taiko is a group performance art that combines traditional Japanese drumming with elements of martial arts and modern jazz. Gendo is known for performing a wide diversity of taiko styles, at venues including Gillette Stadium, the Newport Black Ships Festival, and GRAVITY, Gendo’s annual spring performance.

Taiko (太鼓) are a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments. In Japanese, the term refers to any kind of drum, but outside Japan, it is used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums called wadaiko (和太鼓 “Japanese drums”) and to the form of ensemble taiko drumming more specifically called kumi-daiko (組太鼓 “set of drums”).

Celebrating Rhode Island

Showcasing culture and history of the Ocean State

Day of Portugal

June 10th, 2017

RI Day of Portugal and Rhode Island College with its Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies partnered with us in celebration of the 40th continuous celebration of Day of Portugal in Rhode Island with performances by Rancho Folclorico do Santo Antonio of Pawtucket.

Bastille Day

July 14th, 2017

A ceremony on Bastille Day honoring three Rhode Island WWII Veterans for their service in liberating France. In gratitude the Republic of France is awarding knighthoods in the French Legion of Honor to: John Dunnigan, Raymond Gillis, and Leo Héroux.

Gaspee Day

June 10th, 2017

Our annual re-enactment of the Great Debate featured three engaging historians, John McNiff, John Concannon, and Jonathan Ryder in a fascinating re-enactment of the lively debate that occurred at Sabin’s Tavern on June 9th, 1772 over whether or not the Colonies should demand independence from Great Britain.

Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial Rededication

September 3rd, 2017

In response to the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, WaterFire invited the community to assemble at the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of equality, tolerance and justice. Let us remember that Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 explicitly as a “shelter for persons distressed for conscience.”

Clear Currents

Community Paddling Event

This year on July 22nd WaterFire Providence and the Narragansett Bay Commission partnered to present this year’s Clear Currents community paddling event that celebrates improved water quality in RI. Clear Currents features close to 60 illuminated Japanese koi (fish) temporarily mounted on canoes and kayaks that registered participants will paddle up and down the river after sunset. The brightly colored fish will beautifully compliment the 80 wood burning braziers installed on the river! Clear Currents celebrates the cleaner water that the opening of the Narragansett Bay Commission’s Combined Sewer Overflow; an initiative that has greatly improved water quality throughout the entire bay area.

Signature Events

Supporting the social good through art and community

C is for Cure: A WaterFire Lighting for RI Defeats Hep C

August 5th, 2017

For the third consecutive year WaterFire Providence joined the public awareness campaign about hepatitis C as part of Dr. Lynn E. Taylor’s larger RI Defeats Hep C innitiative.

The Flames of Hope: A Celebration of Life™

September 30th, 2017

The Flames of Hope: A Celebration of Life™ WaterFire is part of a weekend-long celebration of the hope, strength, determination, and courage all of those battling breast cancer and their friends and family show each and every day.

The WaterFire Salute to Veterans

November 4th, 2017

The WaterFire Salute to Veterans event is a collaborative, community-wide celebration whose mission is to honor and recognize all United States veterans, active and reserve military personnel and families for their service, sacrifice, and contributions to this nation

National Governors Association Conference and Mayors’ Institute on City Design

July 14th, 2017 & July 20th -22nd, 2017

We were pleased to present a special WaterFire lighting for the National Governors’ Association Conference on July 14th that showcased what’s unique and special about Providence and Rhode Island and we were honored to host the National Endowment of the Arts and the US Council of Mayors 67th Mayors’ Institute on City Design at the WaterFire Arts Center and at the WaterFire event. Eight mayors from across the country were joined by 8 design professionals for 2 days of workshops and networking which culminated in the group actively participating in the WaterFire lighting on July 22nd

FireBall! – Our Signature Fundraiser

It was our pleasure to welcome hundreds of you into our new home at the WaterFire Arts Center. You helped us raise more than $160,000 in support of WaterFire Providence’s mission of fostering community engagement and inspiring Rhode Island and its visitors through art.

Looking Forward

In 2017 WaterFire Providence took a big step outlined in our strategic plan as we “transitioned from an improvised arts event to a Rhode Island institution.” Looking forward we are excited by all of the amazing opportunities in 2018 and beyond. In the late Winter/early Spring we’re collaborating with Brown University and the artist Ryan Mendoza in returning the Rosa Parks House to the United States for a welcome back exhibition in the WaterFire Arts Center. Partnering with The Wilbury Theatre, the FringePVD will back in the WaterFire Arts Center for a longer run in July. Lots of other exciting arts and culture programming is under development for the WaterFire event downtown as well as in the WaterFire Arts Center in the Valley/Olneyville neighborhood. We hope you’ll be actively engaged in WaterFire community as a volunteer, donor or visitor in 2018.

A special thanks to our photographers, videographers and editors:

Luis Andrade, Tom Backman, Tim Blankenship, Jennifer Bedford, Jen Bonin, Drew Christhilf, Erin Cuddigan, Eric Dush, Andrea Ehmke, Elaine Fredrick, Scott Friedman, Heidi Gumula of DBVW Architects, Matthew Huang, Roberta Kauffman, Tim Labonte, Tom Lincoln, Nick Marcoux, Jeff Meunier, Kevin Murray, John Nickerson, Laura Paton, Kelly Riley, Henry Schaefer, Norma Smith, Jon Waugh, and Jared Winslow