Long Standing Show Returns in December

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 8, 2015

Foundry Artist Association Kicks Off 33rd holiday Sale at Pawtucket Armory

Look for thousands of shoppers to converge on downtown to purchase unique holiday gifts for their friends and loved ones.       Next month, the Foundry Artists Association (FAA), one of Rhode Island’s premier arts events, returns to the City of Pawtucket to kick off its 33rd holiday sale.  At this two weekend event, 60 seasoned artists bring their fine art and crafts to sell to the Pawtucket Armory’s drill hall, items ranging from art glass to wood, and include painting, sculpture, metal, fiber, mixed media, jewelry, ceramics, photography, millinery, handmade books, and furniture.

One of Rhode Island’s oldest shows runs for seven days over the first two December weekends, starting with the Gala Opening Night on Thursday, December. 3, from 5pm – 9pm. The Gala features the John Juxo and Otis Read, refreshments and the kick off of a Silent Auction showcasing items valued over $50 that are donated by each of the participating artists.

The show continues on Friday, December. 4, from noon – 8pm; Saturday (December. 5) and Sunday (December. 6) from 10-6 pm. The proceeds of the first weekend Silent Auction will be given to two nonprofits: Sovereign House, an advocacy and resource center for Rhode Island domestic abuse victims and the Resources for Human Development, a Pawtucket-based arts-based studio program that serves adults with a range of disabilities.

The Foundry Artist show reopens on Friday, December 11, noon – 8pm; Saturday, December. 12, 10am – 6pm, and closes on Sunday, December. 13, 10am – 6pm.

The show is free to the public with free parking in the adjacent parking lot and free on street parking.  Handicap parking is in the rear of the building.  No sales tax will be charged on purchases; all major credit cards accepted.

Providence artist Michael Bryce, FAA’s president, says his organization’s event stands out from other art shows popping up throughout the Ocean State in December.  “With a juried selection of artists, the caliber of work is high in our show,” he says, noting that a strong outreach brings seasoned artists to group’s attention, who are invited to apply and submit their work for consideration.

“After a rigorous jury process usually 75 percent of the artists will be selected to return the next year, says Bryce. This turnover gives shoppers an opportunity to view the art work of the new participating artist each year.

Pawtucket’s First Years

Bryce says that over three decades ago, a community of artists opened their I-95 Foundry Building studios in downtown Providence to the public during the December holiday season.  In 1995, when the Foundry Building was converted to office space, its artists scattered to studios throughout the region, however, they continued to hold a December holiday show in different venues. These places included Veterans Auditorium and at a mill now demolished on Charles Street, both located in downtown Providence. The Foundry Artist would end up in Pawtucket initially by relocating to the Grant building on the City’s historic Main Street and later to Riverfront Lofts, across the river from City Hall.

In 2002, the Foundry Artists were drawn to the 1894 castle-like Armory, on Exchange Street, says Bryce.  With the departure of the National Guard in 1994 the City’s historic Pawtucket Armory became vacant.  Its 11,000 sf drill hall might just be the perfect place to hold for their holiday sale.

Ultimately, with the Foundry Artist signing a lease with the Pawtucket Armory Association, a nonprofit that owned and was renovating the historic structure, former Mayor James E. Doyle, charged the city’s Department of Planning & Redevelopment with the responsibility of making sure all the regulatory i’s were dotted and t’s crossed.  Art supporters, including Phyllis and Morris Nathanson, Paul Audette, along with Developer Ranne P. Warner gave countless hours to making this first Holiday sale a success.

At the first Foundry Artist Holiday Sale, under the amazing vaulted space, a large outside propane heater piped hot air inside the drill hall to bring temperatures up to a manageable level.  Porta cans placed at the back of the drill hall became the de facto rest rooms. With paint peeling from the ceiling and walls, the huge space needed a good coat of paint.

But, shoppers, coming from Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts, found plenty of free parking in Pawtucket, and easy access off Interstate 95.  With the Pawtucket Armory being located in the City’s 307 acre Arts District, there was no sales tax was charged on purchases.

Over the 13 years that the holiday sale has been held at the Pawtucket Armory, gradual improvements were made to this building.  Propane heaters used during the first years were replaced with an efficient gas heating system and rest room facilities were built out.  Over the last couple of years a new wooden floor was installed in the huge drill hall with the walls and ceiling being painted.

Bryce, employed by the Providence Journal as a freelance illustrator at age 12 who was has received undergraduate and master degrees in painting and illustration and teaches art at local colleges, says that the Armory’s drill hall perfectly showcases the artist’s one-of-a-kind art work. “I cannot even image another space that would be so perfect,” he says, stressing that the “beautiful space” gives shoppers a “breath-taking experience.” when they are browsing around looking for that piece of art.

With two years under his belt as President, Bryce has worked to put his finger prints on the Holiday sale.  With the silent auction being completed by the end of the first weekend, he successfully pushed his group to create artist showcase which highlights each unique artist’s works.

Live artist demonstrations and videos are scheduled every hour on the second weekend to show the process of making art in different artistic mediums, Bryce added, noting that this “creates an interesting and interactive environment for the shopper.”

For additional information about this year’s foundry Artists Show, please visit www.foundryshow.com or www.facebook.com/foundryshow.  Or listen to advertising spots place don Rhode Island National Public Radio.

It Takes a “Village” to Organize an Arts Festival

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 30, 2013

Years ago, the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote a book It Takes a Village, attributing the title to an old African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The book details the impact individuals and groups outside the family make on meeting a child’s needs.

City government does not always have the financial means or resources to organize large community gatherings, successfully. Just as it takes a “Village” to assist parents in raising their children, it takes the commitment of dedicated community volunteers in a “Village,” that is Pawtucket, to work closely with City government to organize and host one of the largest arts and cultural festivals in the Ocean State, maybe even in New England: the Pawtucket Arts Festival (PAF).

The upcoming month-long PAF, organized by Pawtucket’s Department of Planning and Redevelopment, leading cultural and service organizations, as well as community volunteers, is scheduled for September 6 to September 29, at various locations throughout the City.

With more than two centuries of story to showcase, the PAF turns the spotlight on glorious Slater Memorial Park, the Blackstone River and the riverfront, and the city’s contemporary blue-collar urban core, with its restored mills and commercial spaces that now house visual arts and recording studios, galleries and fabricators, as well as two of New England’s most highly regarded theatres, the Gamm Theatre and Mixed Magic Theatre.

The City’s arts festival celebrates a legacy of creativity and innovation that dates way back to 1790, when a young textile wizard from England, Samuel Slater, made the Blackstone River Valley and the City of Pawtucket the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and the place where artisans and craftsmen first gathered.

Now in its 15th year, the Pawtucket Arts Festival is overseen by Pawtucket resident John Baxter. PAF Chairman Baxter, a senior level staffer for the Rhode Island Senate, and his executive committee of 16 volunteers are about ready to see the fruit of their year-long planning.

Performing Arts Chair Mary Lee Partington says, “The performing arts focus of the Pawtucket Arts Festival is aimed at interpreting the region’s innovative and entrepreneurial energy through the state’s resident artists…many of whom perform and introduce new and original material during the month-long Festival.”

Partington notes the range of offerings from classical, traditional, or folk music and dance to Aurea, Opera Providence, and jazz artists Greg Abate and Duke Robillard and their ensembles, as well as theatre at The Gamm and performance art from TEN31 Productions. Pawtucket’s widely-acclaimed arts festival reaches across geography and genres to show the performing arts at work in Rhode Island and among our national and international touring artists.

“We tell Rhode Island’s story through the arts…here, there, and everywhere,” stresses Partington.

Here are some of the major events of the first weekend of the upcoming Pawtucket Arts Festival.

Celebration in the Streets

Next Friday, on September 6, PAF organizers kick off the first ever Blackstone River Party: Taste of the Valley, brought to you by Schofield Printing. The event, drawing thousands to the grounds of the historic Slater Mill Museum and the blocked off Roosevelt Ave., is scheduled from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The City’s largest downtown block party offers food and dessert samplings served by some of the finest restaurants in Pawtucket and the surrounding Blackstone Valley communities. A cash bar is available.

Crowds will gather on the large dance floor under a huge white tent as Rhode Island’s high energy Zydeco band, Slippery Sneakers, begins playing at 6:00 p.m., concluding at 8:00 p.m. After a brief break, headliner Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic take the stage from 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Admission is $10. Children under 12 are admitted free. The event is “Rain or Shine.” Advance tickets can be purchased at the City Visitor Center.

On September 7-8, the performing arts share the stage with visual arts and fine craft when more than 50 artists show their one-of-a-kind work at Arts Marketplace: Pawtucket (www.artsmarketplacepawtucket.com), from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., in the Pawtucket Armory Center for the Arts. Surrounding the 119 year old historic armory, XOS-Exchange Open Studios (www.xospawtucket.com), from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., brings art buyers into the studios of more than 60 artists located throughout four renovated mills in the City’s Pawtucket Amory District.

According to Joan Hausrath, a retired college professor and artist at Riverfront Lofts across from Pawtucket City Hall, XOS Exchange Street Open Studios attracted more than 2000 people last year for its 2-day inaugural event. One of the benefits of having open studios in her neighborhood is that visitors can easily walk from one mill to another – all located within one block of each other, and they are just yards from Exit 29 off I-95, the artist noted.

Hausrath and her fellow organizers of this event invited artists from the other mills in Pawtucket to participate as guest artists, to increase the concentration of talent within the grand, historic structures that provide creative home and work space for these gifted citizens of the arts.

Jam Packed First Weekend

Also, on September 7 other festivities include The Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival on the Blackstone River, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at School Street Pier (presented by Schofield Printing); the Lighting of Pawtucket’s New Bridge (4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.); Slater Mill Museum’s new In-OVATION Festival featuring the Duke Robillard Jazz Trio and the Matt Macaulay Trio and more (12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m.). Meanwhile, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta, The Pirates of Penzance, will be offered by Opera Providence, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., at the City Visitor Center, and The Samaritans of RI, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., showcases their intimate fine arts gallery and In-OVATION Festival After Party with Unforgettable September Music at Forget-Me-Not Gallery on Park Place.

Finally, among the new PAF events this year is the Pawtucket Rotary Club’s Food Trucks on the Blackstone (www.blackstonefoodtrucks.com), offering a food fair (and beer tent) on September 7-8, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., near Pawtucket City Hall, to hungry families, art shoppers, and audience attending Slater Mill Museum free musical performances.

On September 8, Slater Mill’s Labor, Ethnic and Heritage Festival, presents one of the Ocean State’s longest-running folk music and heritage-arts festivals. Initiated in the late 1980’s in partnership with the Rhode Island labor community and affiliated unions, the L&E Festival celebrated 25 years in 2012. The Sunday event, from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., shines its spotlight on folk and ethnic music, the artisans of the Community Guilds Studio and gifted regional artists and artisans.

Creative Co-advisor to In-OVATION FESTIVAL and the Labor & Ethnic Heritage Festival at Slater Mill is Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame inductee Ken Lyon, a blues and folk music legend who helped design this year’s music festivals, who lists the L&E lineup with members of Magnolia, The Greg Abate Jazz Quartet, The Eastern Medicine Singers, Joyce Katzberg & Jimmy Warren, Bill Petterson, The Zimmermen (presenting the repertoire of Bob Dylan) and more.

Admission for the folk music festival on the grounds of Slater Mill is free. Admission prices for Slater Mill tours are listed at http://www.slatermill.org. Special preview tours “RI Labor History 1790-1830” by Slater Mill interpretive guide Joey L DeFrancesco of “Joey Quits” You Tube fame, will be offered.

Logistics Co-Chair Paul Audette, a semi-retired businessman who serves as a volunteer festival organizer, has seen the Arts Festival “grow up” and offer more sophisticated artistic presentations. “Programming reaches out to more people in a larger geographic area to showcase Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley region positively,” he observes, noting that this year’s events are more varied and offer something for everyone.

Adds Chairman Baxter, “I continue to be amazed that the Pawtucket Arts Festival, with its limited financial and manpower resources, manages to produce this remarkable event again and again.” Community volunteers and arts and cultural organizations are truly the life-blood of the City’s largest festival, Baxter observes. “Without the incredible support of the City Administration, the local business community, the cultural enterprise community, and these volunteers, the Pawtucket Arts Festival would never happen.”

Keeping Kristine’s Vision Alive

In 1999, Kristine Kilmartin, newly married to her husband Pawtucket Rep. Peter Kilmartin, had lived in Pawtucket for only a few months. The Smithfield native was driving through Slater Memorial Park in early January with her new husband when she asked why the City didn’t take more advantage of its green space. Kristine wondered why the City couldn’t do something like the Scituate Arts Festival in the City’s 209-acre park. The Kilmartin’s turned to Mayor James E. Doyle with the idea of creating an arts
festival. After a month of meetings, discussion, and planning, the City created an 18-person volunteer committee to begin planning the first Arts Festival.

Fifteen years later, volunteers from the community have kept Kristine’s vision alive, annually bringing new life in September to the City’s downtown and to its largest municipal park.

For more details and updated information on the 2013 Pawtucket Arts Festival, go to http://www.pawtucketartsfestival.org.

Herb Weiss, Leadership RI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care, and medical issues. As Economic & Cultural Affairs Officer for the City of Pawtucket, he provides staff support to the Pawtucket Arts Festival organizers.