Providence's Arts Community Bands Together

IN keeping with the commercial development in Providence, the arts are revitalizing, too. On Oct. 28, the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) opened The Daphne Farago Wing, 11,500 square feet of new exhibition and storage space.

Founded in 1877, RISD is considered one of the best design schools in the world. For Providence, it serves as an anchor to the arts community, including students and faculty from neighboring colleges.

In 1992, works from the museum's collections were on loan to some 50 museums worldwide, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Louvre in Paris.

``This is an arts town,'' says Kathy Jellison, assistant director for the Museum of Art at RISD. And although the arts have always had a great presence in Providence, she says, there is a new commitment among arts people to band together. ``We're starting to work together now because it's in everybody's best interest,'' Ms. Jellison says. ``The attitude is: `What's good for Providence is good for us.' ''

A key lobbyist for this new commitment is Tereann Greenwood, director of marketing and development for the the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra (RIPO) and president of Rhode Island Arts Advocates. ``Providence is about to go through a major renaissance in the arts that coincides with the rebuilding of Providence itself,'' Ms. Greenwood says. She notes that Providence's three major arts institutions - the RISD museum, the Tony-Award-winning Trinity Repertory Company (in its 30th year), and RIPO - have gone through significant leadership changes in the past five years.

Running in tandem with those three institutions is a wealth of active smaller organizations, such as dance companies and Off-Trinity (like Off-Broadway) theaters. There is also a wealth of individual artists and artisans - many of whom are RISD alumni - who are establishing themselves.

As with most US cities, particularly in the Northeast, Providence's arts have been hard hit by the recession. Yet, Greenwood suggests, the recession could be viewed as one of the factors that has strengthened the cooperative efforts of the arts community.

``From the arts side of things, the goal has been to be looked at as one of the decisionmakers [in the city] and even to be a catalyst in many ways,'' Greenwood says. Now everyone - arts groups, the city, developers, and business - must work together to agree on a master plan, she says.

Other revitalization efforts include:

* The Providence Performing Arts Center is enlarging to accommodate bigger productions, such as ``Phantom of the Opera'' and other touring Broadway shows.

* The ``downcity'' area is being rehabilitated as an arts and entertainment district. (Skeptics say the potential is there, but nothing has happened yet.) One area near Trinity Repertory Theatre will be a kind of artists' colony called AS220. (``AS'' is for ``ArtsSpace.'')

* The orchestra, in its 49th season, has replaced about one-quarter of its players in the past five years. It also relocated last year to the renovated Veterans Memorial Auditorium.

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