WaterFire Providence: Where the Elements Meet
You know the summer season is arriving when the floating line of fire basins fill the small rivers of Providence, Rhode Island. As the sun begins to set, a gong is struck and the large crowds of curious travelers gather along the city’s tributaries, drawn to the mystique and adventure that is WaterFire Providence. Every few weeks, Providence hosts a WaterFire event that draws large crowds to the downtown section of the city for a Saturday night of inspiration and excitement. People follow the flames of the burning logs in metal bowls (more formally known as braziers – if we want to get fancy here) that float gracefully in a line on the tributaries as bands and street performers from all over the globe perform and entertain while artists and local vendors showcase their work. WaterFire Providence is more than just a Saturday night event however; it is just as much about community and a sense of togetherness as it is about art and burning logs on water. WaterFire Providence is a gathering in both the mind and spirit; where all walks of life and different creeds can come together and participate in a night of festivities and fun.
The Origins of WaterFire Providence
WaterFire Providence origins can be traced back to 1994 in the form of the First Fire, when the famous artist and sculptor, Barnaby Evans (This guy definitely has the coolest name I have seen in awhile), crafted the idea of it for commemoration of the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence. In 1996, Evans created the Second Fire for the International Sculpture Conference where it became the gathering place for thousands of participants from all over the world. The fires became extremely popular with the crowds who had gathered and enthusiastic art supporters finally convinced Evans to create an on-going fire installation within the city. By 1997, WaterFire Providence, a non-profit organization for the people and by the people, had been born and the Providence Renaissance was sparked.
WaterFire Providence Grows
In response to growing attendance, WaterFire expanded in size to 81 braziers in 1998; and 97 in 1999. By 2000, over 100 braziers were being lit and crowd attendance was surpassing 350,000 per season. WaterFire Providence still continues to grow and has helped to increase attention, tourism, small business growth and a boom in the artistic scene of both Providence and Rhode Island. By 2013, WaterFire Providence had expanded its season to April through December with 24 lightings each season.
WaterFire Providence attracts over one million people per year on average now and generates over nine million dollars revenue per season, which has helped to reinvigorate the local economy and boost tourism. Barnaby Evans’ artwork has turned Providence into a destination city once again and has helped small businesses to thrive during the annual WaterFire seasons. Evans has also been awarded for his work and many other cities now host similar events – inspired Providence’s ambition and dedication to their pride-filled festival.
We, here at FiRE+iCE, are proud to be so close to this spectacular on-going event and enjoy having the festivities occur in our own backyard! To be so close to the festival and experience the magic that is WaterFire Providence is something we cherish greatly. It is beautiful to see the community that makes up WaterFire come together like a family reunion.
The Beauty of it All
WaterFire Providence is more than just a simple burning of logs or a piece of artwork. WaterFire Providence goes beyond that however, and invokes something greater in everyone that attends. It brings together a sense of community and strengthens those who join in on the revelry.
As you walk along the water, you participate in the scene, both physically and mentally. Just like everyone else, you travel along the water as one long body: observing the fires’ orange glow and the smell of aromatic hickory as it wafts through the air, you also hear the sounds of foreign music enticing people’s ears and the visual stimulation of street performers and scattered artwork along the tributaries.
For some, WaterFire Providence is almost spiritual in the sense that it can refresh the soul and highlight a summer season. WaterFire is something that cannot be defined, but witnessed by those who seek it out. Even as I write this, it cannot give the ceremonial event justice in what it is to describe the experience of it all.
Who would ever think that two very different elements could come together so perfectly like this?
Check out the WaterFire website for more information or to see when the next WaterFire event is happening: http://waterfire.org