"This is our chance to put artists and the community on center stage, shine the spotlight on them. Art has no bounds; anyone can speak to each other through the language of art.” - Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza
The passionate sound of a soul band comes gliding down from the end of Washington Street. A young artist belts out lyrics to her newest single. The crowd sings along as they quickly learn the words. Classical ballet comes from down the street as a crowd forms. Beyond the heads of the crowd are the tips of a ballet dancer’s fingers as she balances on nothing but her toes. Kids run past with their faces elaborately painted with flowers, superhero masks, and animal prints. The smell of freshly fried dough, spicy street tacos, and hamburgers served straight off the grill waft past the crowds. All of these smells, sights, and sounds topple into each other in the heart of Providence also known as the Creative Capital. It was the start of PVD Fest.
The “language of art” is what brought thousands of people together for this four day festival in Providence. Some people were linked together through interpretive dance, some were joined by musical
notes, some joined through a painting that touched them, and some locals even connected through Rhode Island inspired art.
“No way! Is this a Rocky Point amusement park ticket?” said Deborah Kreiger, as a smile swooped across her face. She lunged forward grabbing a keychain with a large rectangular glass pendant. A closer look showed that the glass enclosed a tiny ticket that read “Rocky Point. Good for any ride.”
The Black Sheep Designs booth was lined with handmade jewelry, key chains, and magnets. Each one was uniquely made from a piece of Rhode Island, literally, whether it was earrings with Providence
trolley tokens dangling down, a necklace with a bronze pendant that is inscribed with “Newport Bridge Token,” or even a magnet that encases S&H Stamps, a collectible at Rhode Island grocery stores
“I loved this place,” said Kreiger holding up the keychain. “I would go every summer with my family. It was a tradition.” Kreiger immediately took out money to buy the item that brought back her childhood
“People are always coming into my tent excited when they recognize the tickets or tokens,” said Paula Laurenzo, who has designed the vintage Rhode Island jewelry for 20 years. “Complete strangers will
tell me the stories they associate with these vintage items.”
People walk into the tent pointing at the S&H stamps that their moms used to collect. As people walked in and out of the tents, the sound of a mariachi band’s guitar notes carried through the streets where a line of vendors were set up for the festival.PVD Fest began June 2 and lasted until June 5. The festival brought together art, food, and the community to the center of Providence with over 500 artists, 30 food trucks, and 70 vendors.
“While running for office, part of my platform was to create a signature marquee festival,” said Mayor Elorza. “Providence has such a thriving art community and culture.”
PVD Fest brought in local artists as well as flew in artists all the way from Africa. There were dancers, painters, muralists, street performers, musicians, face painters, steel workers, jewelers, mimes, and many other creative minds.
“We are giving a platform for artists to express and show off their talents,” said Mayor Elorza. “We are not creating the artists; they have done that on their own. We want to provide them the stage.”
While there were over 13 stages, performers and festivalgoers also used the streets as a stage for the Saturday parade.
A little boy pulled a lumpy blue monster’s tail and clapped his hands together with excitement as the monster flapped its smiling mouth at the boy. A couple of elderly women walked up to a green monster with a droopy nose to see if it was real or just a figment of their imagination.
The monster suddenly flinched, and the women jumped, grabbed each other, and released the sound of surprise in the form of laughter.
As the monsters walked away, everyone followed, and the PVD Parade started. The elongated train of people walked through the streets of Providence. The parade revealed people of all cultures colliding together to create a procession of all colors, sizes, and costumes. As the parade walked through the city, a trail of music inspired by different countries and genres lingered through the air.
With over 500 performers at the festival, there was something for everyone, but one of the more popular stops along the street was a blackboard that read ‘Dear Past Self,’ a piece of art that gave strangers
the chance to leave a message for themselves that they wish they had realized before or to give courage to others who faced similar challenges.
“Be kind,” “Do more art,” “You are loved,” “Come out sooner,” “Life’s not out to get you,” “I’m sorry I mistreated you,” and “Follow your dream, no matter what” were just a few out of an
estimated 500 messages written on the board during PVD Fest.
As people saw the black chalkboard, they would walk up to it and write a message in the bright colors. Complete strangers stood next to each other writing on the board— confessing their insecurities, writing their regrets, and some trying to stop people from making the same
Kerri Biagiotti, one of the founders who created the art board for a senior capstone project said, “What we don’t always relate to is our feelings of self-regret. We want this to help people build a better sense of self-understanding. It is art in action.”
While people connected through various forms of art, the concerts at the festival, which would start at noon and last until one in the morning, drew the biggest crowds.
“Music is togetherness,” shouted Ghana reggae singer Rocky Dawuni as he performed at the main stage. “I’m from Ghana but I feel like right here, right now, we are all part of the same family.”
Rocky Dawuni, who was nominated for a Grammy Award and even named one of “Africa’s Top 10 Global Stars” by CNN, traveled to PVD Fest to perform for the crowd. Many artists this year traveled from all over the world to perform, including Lakou Mizik, a group of Haitian musicians; Afro-Cuban All Stars, a 17-piece band from Cuba; and Close-Act Theatre, a street theater company from the Netherlands that brings giant dinosaurs to life as they tower over the locals.
As Dawuni came to the stage, people stood up and swayed back and forth as they let his music take them away.
“Ayeeeee Ayeeeee. I believe we can shine the light so bright,” sang Dawuni.
A man in his 30s kicked off his shoes and shuffled over to an elderlynwoman, opening the palm of his hand and reaching for hers. The two walked into the aisle dancing together. Strangers began to dance
together without speaking. There was no need to—the music spoke for them. Peace. Hope. Togetherness.
“I want to thank the people of this festival,” said Dawuni, “For bringing this gathering of cultures and people together right here in Providence.”
Written by & Photography by Sara Cline
Design by Kimberly Sherman Leon