The weekend downpours and thunderstorms spared no one at PVDFest, Providence’s annual art, music, and food festival, leaving business owners and vendors with thousands of dollars in damaged merchandise and questions around how the city and festival organizers handled the inclement weather.
“It’s not like everybody didn’t know about the weather that was coming,” said Anthony Medeiros, 31, a mixed-media painter from Cranston and one of the hundreds of vendors who showcased work at the festival on Sunday, just to watch from a nearby parking garage as the rain ruined his wares.
“Every artist out there got all of their livelihood pretty much destroyed in one afternoon,” Medeiros said, adding that he estimates he’s had more than $2,000 worth of damages. He said he’s disappointed that the city and festival organizers didn’t come up with an effective contingency plan, and hopes he will be reimbursed for damages.
“I’ve vended with other companies who, if they know there’s inclement weather, they’ll just reschedule because they don’t want their vendors to get damaged product,” Medeiros said.
Just days before the festival, Haus of Codec, one of the entities that oversees vendors at PVDFest, notified vendors that it was a rain or shine event.
Well, @NWS have ordered people in Providence to shelter in place. @PVDFest security is telling food truck operators to stop taking orders. Attendees were told to find shelter.— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) September 9, 2023
Most of the attendees I’m close to are talking about taking off for the night. @Globe_RI pic.twitter.com/SOKWtCmeOi
“They mentioned that this is just typical Rhode Island weather, it’s unpredictable. And it’s like, there’s a difference between typical Rhode Island weather that’s unpredictable and what we experienced yesterday,” Medeiros said.
On Saturday and Sunday, lightning storms and flash flood warnings issued by the National Weather Service prompted the city to pause all programming. Organizers conducted an evacuation of attendees to designated shelter-in-place locations along the festival’s periphery.
“Once lightning was recorded within five miles of the festival footprint, security personnel expediently directed artisan vendors to designated shelter-in-place locations until the electrical storm passed,” a spokesperson for the city of Providence said via email on Monday. “Subsequently, the City reassigned private security officers to the task of protecting artists’ equipment and materials throughout the duration of the shelter-in-place protocol. This critically important decision was driven by the inherent danger of permitting anyone to remain under a metal tent during a lightning storm.”
When the storm arrived on Sunday about 45 minutes into the festival, Medeiros said security told him and other vendors to leave their tents behind and seek shelter.
“And we all watched from the parking garage as the rain collapsed our tents, our tables — tables were floating down the street,” Medeiros said. “And there were vendors from Haus of Codec who were running outside to help other vendors and try to salvage what they could while the staff police security did nothing.”
“I had to carry all of my stuff about half a mile down the street because my roommate’s car broke down because of the flood,” Medeiros added. “So that was my day.”
Medeiros was among the hundreds fuming after this year’s PVDFest, and at the city of Providence for its overall handling of festival that’s beloved by the community. PVDFest typically draws thousands of people downtown, and drives profits for many participating and nearby businesses. Mayor Brett Smiley’s administration introduced big changes to the festival this year, including its location and timing. Since its 2015 founding, the festival had taken place in June and was held downtown. This year’s festival was held at 195 District Park, near the pedestrian footbridge but away from small businesses on South Main Street.
“You [expletive] so many businesses, mine included,” Kirk said in the video. “Every single small business has told me how outspoken and against all of these changes that they are that you put into place for this festival. You decided to move this over the bridge where there’s no shade and no business ... I’m willing to bet my entire business you don’t get another term after this festival.”
When PVDFest was held downtown in June, people could step inside local stores if the weather became bad, “where they would spend money,” Kirk noted. But outdoors, vendors were forced to shelter in place in parking garages.
On Facebook, more artists and business owners voiced their concerns following this year’s festival.
“Since PVD fest was a total show of how the city doesn’t care to support its local artists and small businesses, can we get a thread going of local artists and creative businesses?” one person wrote.
“Is there any way to get the city to reimburse these people who had their inventory/property destroyed because of the fest organizers’ own incompetence?” another added.
“As someone who vends outdoors, I am shocked they not only went ahead with having them set up at all knowing the forecast, but they didn’t give them ample warning to pack up ahead of the known thunderstorms,” another person said.
Medeiros also took swift action, leaving messages for PVDFest organizers, which hadn’t been returned as of Monday afternoon.
“Who is going to be responsible for reimbursing and compensating?” Medeiros asked.
Michaela Antunes, director of communications for Economic Development for the city of Providence, responded to the question of whether artists will be compensated for damages by noting: “As stipulated in their agreements and in alignment with standard practices for outdoor festivals and marketplaces, PVDFest vendors were informed that any incurred damages would not be subject to reimbursement.”
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Masa Taqueria.