Sights and Sounds of Providence: Rhode Island’s Creative Capital

Learn what Rhode Island’s capital and New England’s second-largest city has to offer its visitors from Esha Samajpati. Esha gives an overview of its attractions including WaterFire, an artistic display you’ll find along the downtown river, live jazz music, lots of theaters, and great shopping!

Roger Williams
Roger Williams statue overlooking the Providence skyline. Photos by Pinaki Chakraborty.

English clergyman Roger Williams openly criticized the colonial authorities and believed in the separation of Church and State. The officials of the Puritan Massachusetts Bay were eager to get rid of him; they secretly planned his deportation.

In the year 1636, Williams escaped from their clutches and found refuge on a nearby shore. Luckily for him, the land belonged to his Native American friend, Narragansett chief Canonicus.

Williams named the land Providence, in gratitude for God’s providence and declared the place to be a safe haven for the oppressed. He and his fellow settlers encouraged liberty and tolerance and since then, the city has stayed true to its founding principles.

Providence is the second-largest city in New England, after Boston, and the capital of Rhode Island. Marketed as “the Creative Capital,” the city backs resident artists by offering them tax incentives.

RISD (pronounced riz-dee by the locals) is the Rhode Island School of Design and arguably one of the best art schools in US.

Located in the historic East Side of Providence, the RISD museum has been renovated to accommodate twice as much art as before. For the artist and the art enthusiast alike, there is also the AS220, which provides a forum for creativity and offers facilities to artists, especially those with financial constraints.

The city has undergone a sort of revival in recent years. Hotels, condos, apartments, restaurants and urban campuses have sprung up in place of abandoned department stores and warehouses.

Old factory spaces have been turned into workshops and studios. We checked in at the Marriott Renaissance, which was built from a derelict 1920s neoclassical Masonic Temple.

One of the events that have played an important role in the city’s revitalization is WaterFire. The brainchild of a Brown graduate, Barnaby Evans, it draws in the crowds by the thousands. A sixteen-year-old tradition, WaterFire is held several times a month between May and October.

Except for the boat and gondola rides, the entire spectacle won’t cost you a dime. Hundreds of volunteers team up to produce a surreal effect on an otherwise ordinary night.

Sights and Sounds of Providence: Rhode Island’s Creative Capital