Doors Open RI Festival set for Saturday

The Beneficent Congregational Church at 300 Weybosset St. in downtown Providence, built in 1810, is one of 24 locations across the city opening their doors to the public on Saturday, Sept. 23 during the Doors Open Rhode Island Festival. PBN PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD
THE BENEFICENT CONGREGATIONAL Church at 300 Weybosset St. in downtown Providence, built in 1810, is one of 24 locations across the city opening their doors to the public on Saturday, Sept. 23 during the Doors Open Rhode Island Festival. PBN PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – It’s not every day that members of the public are invited inside the green copper dome atop the Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence, but attendees of Saturday’s free Doors Open Rhode Island Festival will be given the opportunity.

The historic church, the oldest on the west side of the Providence River, is one of more than twenty locations across the city that will open their doors to the public during the first-ever DORI Festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (times for individual sites vary) on Sept. 23.

Attendees will have the chance to explore historic churches, homes, theaters and other unique spaces across the city that are normally not accessible. The festival offers a behind-the-scenes look into some of the city’s hidden architectural gems, with historic buildings such as the Rhode Island State House, Providence City Hall and Barnaby Castle, in addition to modern centers of innovation, including the Box Office, Nail Communications and the RISD Nature Lab.

Caroline Stevens, program director for DORI, calls herself a matchmaker between people and places.

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“I started this program because access to these places and their stewards makes us feel more connected to our community,” said Stevens. “I want to connect people to places of architectural, historical and cultural significance.”

Stevens hopes the festival will be the start of a relationship between members of the community and the built spaces around them, offering people a glimpse into how the city functions. She expects more than 2,500 people to attend the festival, DORI’s signature event. The new nonprofit hosted its first program, an open house at Barnaby Castle, in January of this year. Its June tour of the Sons of Jacob Synagogue drew more than 400 people.

Individual festival sites have prepared exhibits for visitors to learn more about each location. At the Atlantic Mills, a 19th century textile hub, an immersive sound installation by Erik Carlson will bring visitors back to the mill’s heyday. At the west side’s Hudson Furs (fans of the podcast Crimetown may recognize the shop as the location of the 1975 Bonded Vault heist), WPRI’s Tim White will speak on the robbery and sign copies of his book, The Last Good Heist.

In their effort to pin-down possible festival locations, DORI surveyed and collected ideas from the public, beginning with a list of 100 possible locations and narrowing them down to 24. Not every location agreed to participate (Stevens tried for several months to include the Hurricane Barrier, to no avail).

Stevens, who previously directed Open House Chicago – now one of the largest architecture and urban exploration events in the country – is not yet sure if the event will be annual, or whether it will expand to other cities across the state, but said she hopes to spread outside of Providence in the future.

There are no tickets or reservations necessary to attend the free event, manned by 75 volunteers. Festival-goers are encouraged to carpool or bike, and RIPTA will offer free rides along its existing routes.

For more information, visit doorsopenri.org/festival.

Nicole Dotzenrod is a PBN staff writer. You can reach her by email at research@pbn.com or follow her on Twitter.