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WaterFire Providence Press Clippings and Other Media

WaterFire, during which performers in boats float down the Woonasquatucket and Providence rivers, setting braziers of wood on fire, will be back for 2021.

In pre-pandemic times, crowds of people lined the shore to take in the immersive artistic experience. There’s music and dancing and plenty of glow sticks. Last year was the first time in two and a half decades that Providence didn’t have a WaterFire river lighting.

This year, with COVID-19 vaccines becoming more widely available and the pandemic’s grip loosening, tourism boosters and city officials are looking to celebrate the event’s return.

Providence awaits the return of its famous WaterFire event by Brian Amaral
The Boston Globe
March 17, 2021

John Mongelli wasn’t looking for volunteer opportunities when he went to the river that sunny afternoon in 1996. He was looking for some fish he had noticed swimming earlier.

But a strange sight in the water caught his attention: a small boat with four people attached to ropes towing an object behind them.

“I watched them for about half an hour,” he recalls. “Then about half an hour later, I was holding one of the ropes. And about half an hour after that, I was driving the boat. So I kind of got roped in.”

Two dozen years later, Mongelli — WaterFire’s longest-serving volunteer — looks back at that memory with fondness and sadness.

To him and to hundreds of other volunteers, artists, performers and business owners, WaterFire represents many things: community, a source of income, and a point of pride for a city that found a way to reinvent itself. Its absence this year because of the coronavirus pandemic has left a gaping hole in the city’s collective psyche.

“It’s almost like losing a family member,” Mongelli said. “It’s hard.”

Providence mourns a year without WaterFire by Jonny Williams
The Providence Journal
November 6, 2020

What is the weight of a human soul? If you were to hold one in your hand, would it feel heavy with life lost, or would it seem to float, a wisp hovering just above your fingers?

Barnaby Evans, the executive artistic director behind Providence’s WaterFire, has held hundreds of souls in his hands in the last few weeks, each of them Rhode Islanders taken by COVID-19.

In a new WaterFire art installation titled Beacon of Hope, a nightly ceremony celebrates and commemorates the lives lost in the state, as luminaria are displayed in an otherwise pitch black industrial room, one set out for every person who has died from the disease.

WaterFire’s Beacon of Hope installation honors COVID victims by Ashley Rappa
The Providence Journal0
May 22, 2020

A city that had fallen into ruin now burns brightly again thanks in part to WaterFire, a burgeoning festival that combines ritual, reverence, and urban vitality.

The Elements of Providence by Carlo Rotella
Washington Post Magazine
September 17th, 2006

If you haven’t experienced WaterFire, I urge you to come to Providence one of the nights that the fires burn. Thousands of people, from all walks of life, stroll the walkways that align Providence’s downtown rivers to contemplate and participate in this extraordinary work of public art and urban community.

Barnaby Evans, WaterFire’s creator – a social entrepreneur igniting art and urban community by Gayle Gifford
Cause and Effect
August 27th, 2008

Nothing prepared me for a powerful work of art – a living ritual in which fire, water, sound and smell all play a part to reduce you to awestruck silence and (in my case) tears of joy, all for free.

My joyous baptism of fire… by Bel Mooney
The London Daily Mail
September 19, 2008

“Over twenty years of success, there have been three independent, professional evaluations of WaterFire’s economic impact.  The most recent is a 2012 study completed by the US Army Corps of Engineers using the IMPLAN modeling system.”

The Economic Impact of WaterFire Providence
US Army Corps of Engineers

“WaterFire is a place of temporary transformation. Temporarily, it transforms a city. Temporarily, it transforms the people who visit it. Temporarily it transforms fire into light, water into fire, and music into water. The dynamics by which these transformations occur are complex and tenuous, and must be protected through constant vigilance. It works because it is unlike other things and allows things to be unlike themselves. WaterFire is a treasured gift and must be guarded.”

WaterFire: Providence’s Epideictic Sublime by Jerry Blitefield
Jerry Blitefield, PhD, is Associate Professor of English and Director of English Graduate Programs at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

“The gathering crowd is everyman and everywoman.  There are serene locals and boisterous tourists, warm families with enraptured children,ardent lovers, and silent mourners counting their memories and blessings.”

Elemental Alchemy (web version) by Laurencia Ciprus
October 2015

“Providence River Relocation is a transportation- and open space based project that grew out of a 30-year history of bold planning efforts undertaken by a series of public and private entities. Known formally as the Memorial Boulevard Extension Project, river relocation was intended to improve pedestrian and vehicular traffic flows in and through downtown and to reclaim Providence’s historic rivers, while setting the stage for an impressive public arts program (including the WaterFire events) and the dramatic revitalization of downtown.”

Providence River Location
2003 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence
Jay Farbstein FAIA, PhD with Emily Axelrod, MCP; Robert Shibley, AIA, AICP; and Richard Wener, PhD

“The Atlantic, The Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted the inaugural “CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges,” from October 6-8, 2013, in New York City. The event brought together 300 global city leaders—more than 30 mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and artists—for a series of conversations about urban ideas that are shaping the world’s metro centers.”

Cultural Investment: Creating Civic Identity Through Art from CITYLAB
Urban Solutions to Global Challenges October 6-8, 2013