PROVIDENCE — More than 100 spectators gathered at Waterplace Park Wednesday evening for a mini WaterFire lighting ceremony to kick off the new season of the city’s popular public art program that blends water, fire, and music in a unique celebration of the city.
Before lighting the 20 wood-filled braziers that floated in the park basin, event organizers and local leaders met to announce the 2022 WaterFire schedule and talk about the financial and community-building boosts the innovative arts experience provides Providence – and the state.
”The success and artistic expression expands beyond the banks of our rivers,” said Alexis Gorriaran, chair and commissioner of the Providence Tourism Council. “It brings people to the city and fills our hotels, fills our restaurants, employs artists. … It’s a cultural experience that really helps Providence shine.”
Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos told the crowd that, whenever she travels, she gets asked about WaterFire.
”It’s special,” she told the Globe. “Seeing the fire, smelling the wood … just the ambiance of it is so peaceful and relaxing.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said that WaterFire is essential to local businesses.
”You know that so many of our local restaurants, our bars, our small businesses in and around downtown … they rely on those WaterFire nights because it brings in the customers,” said Elorza, who thanked the organizers, supporters, and volunteers.
Peter Mello, WaterFire’s managing director and co-chief executive officer, said the organization is “tremendously excited” to bring back the first full WaterFire season since 2019 and pick up on the three “#Art4Impact” themes – arts and science, community heroes, and arts and health – that were launched three years ago.
Not including Wednesday’s event and a preseason partial lighting on April 9, the 2022 WaterFire lighting schedule includes four partial lightings, on May 13, June 10, Sept. 3, and Dec. 3, and seven full lighting events, on June 4 and 25, July 30, Aug. 13 and 27, Sept. 24, and Nov. 5.
All of the partial lightings will be held at Waterplace Park except for the May 13 scaled-back lighting, which will have 12 stationary braziers in front of Memorial Park. The full lighting events, with 85 braziers, will be in Providence’s Woonasquatucket, Moshassuck, and Providence rivers and in the basin at Waterplace Park.
The Aug. 13 lighting will honor the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities, a salute to veterans will be held on Nov. 5, and a holiday celebration is slated for Dec. 5.
Wednesday evening, Brown University junior Isabelle Douman, 21, huddled with her friend and fellow Brown student Joana Sette, 21, to ward off the wind blowing through Waterplace Park. The two economics majors had never attended WaterFire and were excited to see the lighting.
”I’ve heard about it, but never experienced it before,” said Douman, who is from London. “It is really unique and something special to Providence, so I wanted to see if before I graduate.”
Sette, who is from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, said going to WaterFire Wednesday was a nice distraction from studying.
”We have a final tomorrow, so I thought it would be fun and lift up my spirits,” she said.
Barnaby Evans, WaterFire’s creator, executive artistic director, and co-chief executive officer, lauded the longevity of the Providence mainstay and its many supporters.
”WaterFire was first set alight to turn around the fortunes of Providence. Against all expectations, we hoped to make Providence a national destination. We wanted to celebrate our community for its rich history, its leadership in ideas and innovation, and its tapestry of preserved buildings. Now, 25 years later, people have made the city a destination and they love all that they find here,” Evans said.
“WaterFire is an opportunity to come and enjoy a historic city reborn, to see an urban center in new light, and to celebrate the balance of the old and the new mixed with the romance of firelight,” he said. “It has all been made possible by the love, help, and donations of thousands of enthusiastic friends and supporters who have helped us realize their dreams.”