ProvFlux challenges how urban landscape is seen

PROVFLUX ACTIVITIES included planting flowers in potholes around the city, an effort to 'reclaim' the space and also get people to think differently about the urban environment. /
PROVFLUX ACTIVITIES included planting flowers in potholes around the city, an effort to 'reclaim' the space and also get people to think differently about the urban environment. /

Ever thought about playing four-square in the middle of the work day? Of going on a bike ride in your underwear? Putting flowers in pot holes around the city in an effort to reclaim them?
It’s all just a taste of what ProvFlux participants have been doing annually for the past four years in an effort to encourage people in the city to re-examine their routines and the urban landscape they live in.
ProvFlux, held July 12 to 15, is part conference and part festival and is organized mostly by artists living in Monohasset Mills, a live/work development in Providence’s Valley neighborhood.
The festival does not generate revenue, nor does it generate the type of tourism of larger, established events such as Sound Session or “WaterFire Providence,” said Meredith Younger, principal organizer of the event and co-founder of the Providence Initiative for Psychogeographic Studies. ProvFlux is free and 100-percent participatory.
“A lot of what we’re after is temporal,” she said. “We set up shop for one weekend and then it’s gone. … You have to be part of it in order to understand what it’s about.”
But the festival does generate a certain “buzz” about the city’s creative economy. Younger said 25 of the participants in this year’s ProvFlux were from outside the region. Most had never been to Providence before.
This year, the festival featured a lecture by internationally acclaimed artist and architect Fritz Haeg, whose work is on display in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City and the Tate Modern in London.
Haeg spoke about the evolution of his work, from when he started organizing “sundown salons” in his home in Los Angeles to present projects, such as “Edible Estates.”
With his “Edible Estates,” Haeg examines the use of front yards in the United States. He asks people to ask themselves, “Why do we dedicate so much land to a space with so little function?”
Through the project, he has set out to turn front yards in nine cities into edible gardens over a three-year period that started in 2005.
The gardens reconnect people with their food source and make a statement about the isolation that society inadvertently engineers through planned housing developments and default front yards.
“A lot of the people that come here are architects, artists and writers,” Younger said. “With the exchange of ideas, it’s a breeding ground for more ideas … the networks get built stronger and bigger and that’s good enough for us in the end.”
This year the festival included about 18 events that involved 58 participants, some from as far away as California. It draws 400 to 500 audience members each year and operates on a budget of about $2,000, Younger said.
In past years, the budget has come from small grants administered by the Providence Department of Art, Culture & Tourism and individual contributions. But this year the event was granted $5,000 from the LEF Foundation.

Participants who come from outside the region get free room and board with participants who live in Providence, and some also are given stipends to help with their travel expenses.

But organizers don’t get compensated for participating, Younger said. “In past years, we always ended up out-of-pocket.”

If anything is left over from the grant this year, she said, the organizers will use the money for future events or for the book they are planning to publish next year that chronicles ProvFluxes past and explain what the event is about.

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“I think these underground arts events have been a key to creating buzz about Providence,” said Lynne McCormack, director of the city Department of Art, Culture and Tourism.

“The underground arts scene fertilizes the upper-ground arts industry. … It’s an underground layer that often goes undetected and unrecognized. It should be recognized.” •

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