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Revel in Water and Fire in Providence

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By Wayne Lazarus on March 31st, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

The sight of fire reflected in night-water sparks contemplation for some, romance or simply admiration for others. In Providence, Rhode Island, the lighting of WaterFire is a multi-sensory experience, with music playing over the crackling of the flames, the waterside and wood smoke aromas mingling in the air and the thrill of 100 braziers burning bright in the three rivers that flow through this city.

web_soundSessionProv3-WaterFire is an award-winning site-specific sculpture create by artist Barnaby Evans in 1994. Calling it First Fire, he lit wood-stoked fire-pits on the rivers in honor of the tenth anniversary of Providence’s First Night, a New Year’s Eve celebration. In 1996, he re-created the sculpture for the International Sculpture conference and the Convergence International Arts Festival in Providence, and by 1997, it became an annual event called WaterFire. It has brought over a million people to Providence.

“Lightings” are held a dozen or so Saturday nights over the summer and include special lighting ceremonies, 100 volunteers who maintain the fires throughout the night and music. Gondolas and other boats make their way along the water. People flock to the riverside parks to eat, stroll or contemplate the fires. Performance artists and other vendors set up along the sidewalks turning each lighting into a street party. Dances and concerts are often a part of the festivities.

There are plenty of places along the water’s edge to watch the lighting ceremonies or simply enjoy the sparkling river — and there is no charge. The lighting and sculpture are maintained by a non-profit arts organization with the help of corporate sponsors, fund-raising events and donations. Visitors can become a part of the magic by buying a luminary for a $5 contribution or wishing upon a star in Memorial Park’s Starry Starry Night for $20. (“Wishes” are attached to the star as a ribbon tail before the star rises into the sky.) Check the website for a schedule of lightings, and enjoy some of the city’s many attractions while you’re there.

(Photo WaterFire at Waterplace Park by Marianne Grosko, courtesy the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. Used with permission.)

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