Board Member Profile: Betsy Myers, Board Chair

Betsy Myers, WaterFire Providence Board ChairElizabeth Myers, currently a partner at Verrill Dana LLP in Boston, has been Chair of the WaterFire Board for the past two years, succeeding now-Vice Chair Peter Van Erp. As Chair, Myers runs general Board meetings, oversees executive committee meetings, and is a member of each of the subcommittees. “I really take those responsibilities seriously,” Myers said. “As Board members, we are guardians whose job it is to preserve the organization to a certain extent.”

Around 2006, when Myers was a partner at Hinckley Allen & Snyder LLP, Mayor David Cicilline was contemplating a City of Providence partnership with WaterFire Providence. He wanted to negotiate a contract with the organization to institutionalize the art event, and reached out to Myers.

“I was thrilled because, independently, I was very intrigued by WaterFire,” Myers said. “A real motivating and captivating feature for me was that in a time when dollars were tight for most families, WaterFire was a free event, open to all. It is a wonderful way of creating art that can be appreciated by families and others without a cost.” Its admission-free status might also be the biggest challenge to the organization, explained Myers, as the sustainability of WaterFire is always a critical concern. “We wanted to make sure that there was a group of people committed to seeing this wonderful event go forward for future generations.”

For Myers, WaterFire is vital to both Providence and Rhode Island, not only as a tourist destination but also as a way to enhance what the City and State have to offer. “It provides a unique economic driver for the tourism industry in general and attracts people to consider living and working in Rhode Island, and specifically Providence, or attending higher education institutions in the City,” Myers said. “It gives Providence flair and creativity.” So many signature institutions of Rhode Island are creative, such as RISD and Johnson and Wales; WaterFire helps motivate individuals at these organizations to become more creative in their lives.

As for the event itself, Myers describes it as pleasing both audibly and visually, claiming that “the experience is very difficult to describe.” But it is this ethereal intangibility of a WaterFire event that makes it so unique and special. Myers recently received a message from a friend who brought out-of-town visitors to WaterFire; everyone “went on and on about how astounding and unique the event was,” and Myers added that it was a particularly healing night for an unemployed friend of hers.

“WaterFire can do something for so many people on so many levels at different times,” Myers said. “It can be a celebratory piece — like anniversaries and graduations — or it can be a deeply healing kind of experience. That’s the thing I’m most passionate about; it really does seem to be approachable for so many different people.” Myers credited Barnaby Evans and the staff’s creativity in making each event different, which translates into a new experience for visitors each time they return to WaterFire. “That’s something I want to support,” she said.

Myers is proud of what WaterFire has accomplished so far. In the years that she has been involved with the organization, WaterFire has further developed as a Providence institution and a partner with the City and staff. “I’m very proud of the purchase of the new building,” she added. Myers looks forward to seeing the new space used not only as offices and storage space for the boats and equipment of the organization but also as an educational piece. “I envision that it will be an educational experience for schools in Providence to observe how WaterFire is created, how the boats are built and maintained.” Another essential element of the building will be artists’ interactions with the space, and as a showcase to attract businesses interested in relocating their employees to Rhode Island. “It’s a terrific feather in WaterFire’s cap,” she said.

In the future, Myers would like to see a solid economic foundation for WaterFire — money available to further develop the organization’s core mission and perhaps even incorporate educational pieces into the events.

In addition to chairing the WaterFire Board, Myers is also a member of the Board of Directors for Plan International USA, on the Board of Trustees for the Providence Preservation Society, and on the Board for Professional Facilities Management, a sister organization of the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC). In her off-time, Myers likes hiking, skiing, gardening, and cooking; she is very passionate about WaterFire and Providence. Community is a significant component of WaterFire for Myers: “A very important piece of me is being able to give back to the community.”

About the author

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As the nonprofit management intern this summer, I've only been working at WaterFire for a short time. I'm a rising senior at Connecticut College, majoring in English and American Studies with a strong interest in journalism. A local of the area, I've attended WaterFire events for years, so I'm very excited to be a part of the WaterFire team and lend a hand this season.

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