Celebrate Providence! 2014

In Providence, you’re never more than a few blocks away from a park. There are sprawling lawns and compact new playgrounds, parks in empty lots and in large sheltered areas. Parks are places for play and fresh air, but since 2004, the City of Providence’s Celebrate Providence!  Neighborhood Performing Arts Initiative (NPAI) has shaped PVD’s green spaces into much, much more. By facilitating locally led performances in every corner of the city, the NPAI produces a jam-packed schedule of free summer fun for Providence residents – and fosters community building that has impact all year long.
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“The Neighborhood Performing Arts Initiative has been an important tool in helping us to build and strengthen our neighborhood park friend groups and bring safe, positive activities to our parks.  These performances have helped to liven parks and really turn them into community hubs. Neighbors get to know each other through these family fun events in the neighborhood parks and neighborhood park friend groups have been built on the successes of these events.”

     – Beth Charlebois, Providence Department of Recreation, Director

Providence has a history with public performing arts. One that stretches back more than 100 years, in fact, to the foundation of a trust by long-ago resident Edward Ely. In forming the fund, Ely meant to keep performing arts accessible in Providence’s parks for years to come. Today, that trust funding, in combination with a long lineup of mayors and council people invested in the transformative potential of arts in neighborhoods, continues to support Neighborhood Performing Arts Initiative  events.

But performing arts in Providence haven’t always gathered the big, bustling crowds of local spectators who show up to NPAI events today. For many years, city officials simply chose performers and set them up to play in public places. The results were fun, but audiences weren’t huge, and people who lived near performance spaces didn’t seem engaged with the programming.

The City of Providence’s Department of Art, Culture + Tourism was born in 2003, quickly leading to the foundation of the NPAI. It was a new era for arts in Providence, and in terms of public performance, the NPAI represented a fresh approach. Neighborhood groups would choose their own summer programming, curating a lineup of artists that would appeal to – and bring together – specific communities.

“There’s a long legacy of performances in Providence parks. It’s kind of part of our DNA in this city.”

– Stephanie Fortunato, Department of Art, Culture + Tourism

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After a successful decade of performances across town, the Neighborhood Performing Arts Initiative production process is pretty streamlined. Here’s how it works:

Application: Neighborhood organizations, mainly 501c3 groups associated with city parks, apply for Neighborhood Performing Arts Initiative grants to produce free public performances.

  • performances can include any combination of theater, music, dance or spoken word
  • festivals and one-time events are considered, but event series  in one park are given preference
  • applications are judged on artistic merit, neighborhood connections, clarity, and achievability
  • groups are eligible to receive grants between $500 and $4,000 to realize their events

Planning: While the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism works with grant recipients to connect them with artists, community groups are responsible for the bulk of the event organization and planning in their neighborhoods to make sure the performances are in tune with local culture.

Production: Grant recipient groups and the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism work together to publicize events, and the Department of Parks and Recreation provides a stage for larger performances. The Department of Art, Culture + Tourism and the Department of Parks and Recreation also provide general technical support during all events.

“The Celebrate Providence Neighborhood Performing Arts Initiative fills me with hope. It is inspiring to see grass roots organizing at its best. The community organizers who are booking, marketing, and presenting in their free time are focusing on the most positive aspects of community, unity, and expression.”

     – Lizzie Araujo, Department of Art, Culture + Tourism

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And what are the results?

Number-wise, it’s upwards of $500,000 of funding that’s been allocated to performance in 23 parks and counting over the past 10 years, serving more than 10,000 community members each summer.

That means that dance lessons, open mic events, music festivals, and block parties happen in accessible Providence neighborhoods nearly every night throughout July and August.

But it also means that neighborhood groups – who pull community members together to make local areas safer and more successful, block by block – can create the attention they need to grow and expand.

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Every park has it’s own neighborhood performing arts initiative story. 


A Summer Safe Space – Julie Casimiro, South Side Community Block Parties

More Than Just a Dog Park – Carolyn Beal, Brown Street Park

From Concertgoers to Community Organizers – Kari Lang & Nancy Worthen, Dexter Training Ground

But what stays consistent between concertgoers and organizers, at dance events and at block parties, is a sense of bringing people together, purposefully and powerfully. 

“It’s not just about butts in the seats on this, it’s about the transformation of the parks themselves and the community building spurred from that.”

– Stephanie Fortunato, Department of Art, Culture + Tourism



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