Art On The Rhode: Take A Creative Vacation In Providence

New England is known for its captivating coastline and rural charm, but it is also a great retreat for artists and art lovers. Sure, big cities such as Boston have thriving art scenes, but there are several smaller-sized cities with artsy vibes throughout the region. One such place is Providence, Rhode Island, a city recently tagged “The Creative Capital” that has become a magnet for cultural action. Spend some time in Providence and you might agree the city could very well be the next Austin, Texas, or Portland, Oregon. Below are just a few of the ways you can immerse yourself in the arts while in the city.

Check Out A Gallery Show or Performance at AS220
Downtown Providence is home to AS220, a community arts center with multiple exhibitions spaces, a performance space and artist workshops spread throughout several buildings. The galleries are worth a peek, especially if you are interested in scoping out some up-and-coming talent. There is also an AS220-run bar and restaurant, Foo(d), that uses locally-sourced ingredients and has plenty of menu options for vegetarians and vegans. Adjacent to the restaurant, the organization runs a venue hosting live music most nights of the week. If you come early or a band isn’t scheduled, check out the locals-only jukebox in the restaurant for a true taste of Providence. In the summertime, AS220 puts on Foo Fest, a block party featuring music, performances, art installations and more – but year round anyone can check out great art in their public spaces or sign up for a workshop to create some art of their own.


Take a Peek Inside Nazo Lab
Crammed with sci-fi stage props, larger-than-life puppets and other bizarre creations, Nazo Lab is the workshop of a local performance art troop called Big Nazo. The lab has an “open door” policy, meaning passersby are welcome to pop in and check out what creatures the local visual artists and masked musicians, who call the lab home base, are working on. Past projects have include masks and body parts for Broadway shows and props for television commercials and Mardi Gras celebrations, while puppets made at Nazo Lab have been spotted on stage with the Flaming Lips, George Clinton and more.


Partake in a Workshop at the Steel Yard
If you’d like to pick up a new skill or hone a talent you already have, consider planning your trip around a weekend workshop at the Steel Yard. Once a contaminated industrial wasteland, the Steel Yard is now a fully functioning, community-based space focused on technical training in the industrial arts. Individuals, couples or even entire families can take classes that range from blacksmithing to jewelry making. No matter what you choose, it’s guaranteed you’ll always walk away with a unique reminder of your trip. Free public tours are also available at the site every Wednesday at noon.

Browse Art at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art
With more than 86,000 works of art that range from ancient artifacts to contemporary pieces, the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design has a little something for everyone interested in the arts. Just a few of the famous names you’ll find hanging in the museum include Picasso, Monet, Warhol, Koons and Twombly. Don’t miss the enormous 12th-century Buddha, the largest historic Japanese sculpture in the United States. On Sundays, museum admission is pay-what-you-wish (normal admission is $10 for adults).

Watch WaterFire
What is WaterFire? Well, I guess it’s exactly what it sounds like. In 1994, artist Barnaby Evans began lighting bonfires that burn just above the surface of three rivers that converge in the middle of downtown providence on fire. Part performance art, part urban festival and part public art installation, the work forever transformed downtown Providence and has become known nationally and internationally. The event’s symbolism can be interpreted however you choose, but one thing is certain: with an average attendance of 40,000 people per night, everyone seems to love the spectacle. WaterFire can be seen on select Saturdays from May through October, plus some additional dates on special occasions.

Shop for Goods by Local Artists
With so many artists around, it’s natural that Providence would have a great collection of local shops, coffeehouses and restaurants. Take a stroll down Westminster Street and you’ll pass by several shops worth peeking into, including Craftland (pictured above) where you can purchase shirts, prints and jewelry by local artists. Across the street is Symposium Books, where you can check out zines made by locals (while also browsing through beautifully-bound art books, a great collection of comics and more). Near to Symposium you’ll also find Queen of Hearts, a locally owned fashion boutique where you can purchase pieces by the shop owner and designer, Karen Beebe.

Celebrate Locally Made Foods
You’ll probably be hungry after all that shopping, and what the heck – food is art, too. Take a break at Flan y Ajo (also on Westminster Street), a cute bohemian eatery with pictures of bullfighters on the walls and a pinball machine that serves up small bites in the form of tapas. As their website advertises, they only have four stools and do not take reservations, but the wait is worth it. If, instead, you’d like to talk a walk around the Rhode Island School of Art and Brown College campuses, consider first stopping at Duck and Bunny, a cozy “snuggery” with an unassuming pink facade. The white vinyl booths, lace window treatments and marble table tops will have you feeling like you stepped into Alice in Wonderland. Order afternoon tea and some finger sandwiches or go for dessert with a locally made cupcake or ice cream sundae. If the cafe sounds a little too ladylike, remember that the Duck and Bunny isn’t all soft – there’s also a beer and cigar menu. Ship Street Farmers Market (pictured at the top of the page) and other area markets also make for a great lunch option.

[All images by Libby Zay]

Hotel employee uses marching band to quit job

While it may not be as epic as former JetBlue Flight Attendant Steven Slater’s “SlipQuit” meltdown back in August 2010, this (now, obviously, former) employee of the Providence Renaissance Hotel also went out in style. After three years of employment at the hotel, he made it loud and clear that he was quitting by enrolling a group of his friends to form a marching band. Watch the video to see him hand his (very angry) boss a letter of resignation and then walk out the door with the band cheerily trailing behind. No word on who the unnamed employee is, what position he worked at the hotel, whether or not the incident disturbed guests, or the story behind the “lost time accident” sign, but after watching this we’re thinking employees in the tourism sector deserve a break.

Warning: there is some strong language in the film when the employee describes his former boss.

Is Providence, Rhode Island the Country’s Most Creative City?

Summer in New England is so pleasant and so cliche, I didn’t arrive in Rhode Island expecting to find much more than craft breweries, lobster rolls and some wicked good times. And they certainly have those!

But no sooner had I parked the car than I stumbled across a storefront packed with bizarre costumes, alien heads and smiling ogres, looking across the street at City Hall.

What, I wondered to myself as I snapped photos as fast as possible, was going on in Providence?

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I’d inadvertently found the home of Big Nazo, a performance troupe dedicated to the absolutely mind-bending, warming up for an event that evening on Westminster Street at Roots Cafe. Ringleader Minio Pinque introduced himself and started in on the upcoming show calendar for the group, as I gawked at half-finished suits.

A troupe member donned what can only be described as an alien helmet to demonstrate the huge range of costumes Big Nazo uses, everything from enormous full-body get-ups to small masks that jazz up more traditional costuming. Later that evening, a marching band would be coming by to practice for its upcoming engagement with Big Nazo. (One of their numbers was “Crazy in Love.”)

The city is of course home to the Rhode Island School of Design, which accounts for some of the creativity in the air. The current show to see is Cocktail Culture, on view until July 31. The exhibit is a fascinating trip from pre-Prohibition days to the Jet Set era, a museum show surprisingly au courant despite its throwback themes. There is only one reference to Mad Men.

Other art spaces proliferate. The aforementioned Roots is a cultural hub, as is Art Space 220, a downtown collective that encourages creativity with shows and funding. Brown has its own spectacles, like a greenhouse filled with exotic plants and open to the public. An over-educated botanist mentioned that the attraction of the moment in the area was the blooming of a corpse flower at the University of Connecticut. 90 minutes away.

The creativity even extends to breakfast. The favorite joint is Julian’s on Broadway, with Star Wars action figures in the bathroom and neon signs on the wall. Nobody bats an eye if you order Bloody Marys at 9 am, like a table of eight did, nor a massive breakfast that could feed two, like one big, big guy did. As for me, I did what I always do when in New England. I got the hash.

Westin hotel to layoff employees after protests over pay cuts

The Westin Hotel announced it would cut the jobs of almost 50 employees at its Providence, Rhode Island hotel. The layoffs come after several months of demonstrations at the hotel.

According to the Providence Journal, the hotel workers were notified Friday that their jobs would be farmed out to a subcontracting firm at the end of the month.

Demonstrations began in March when the 200-member hotel workers union called for a boycott of the hotel after learning that Westin management wanted to impose wage cuts, health-care cost increases and increased work loads.

The union, whose contract expired in October, says it will continue to call for a boycott.

[via The Providence Journal]

Drive a rental car to Florida for $1

I agree with Mike Barish’s recent post. Road trips do rock. I love grabbing some friends, jumping in the car, and blasting great music as we cruise down the highway or along back roads. If you love a good road trip…..and you happen to live in Texas or on the east coast……and you want to drive one-way to Florida…..and you just happen to plan on going before November 15, well then Thrifty Car Rental has a deal for you.

The car rental company is offering the rock-bottom-rate of $1 per day for renters willing to pick up the car at Houston Hobby, Houston International, Corpus Christi, Boston, Burlington, or Providence airports and drive it to one of nine airports in Florida before November 15.

Odds are that not many people will be able to take advantage of this offer, except perhaps some of the snowbirds, like my grandmother, who head south every winter. But if the circumstances are right for you, it is an awesome deal.

There are some additional restrictions though (yes even more than those above!). Availability is limited and you must make the transfer within seven days. Drive fast, grandma!
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