In 1980, Providence passed an ordinance creating a public art program. Thanks to that forward-thinking action, art dots the landscape throughout the city, validating the claim of being the Ocean State’s “Creative Capital.” … Well, not really.
You see, the program was never activated. As a result, the display of public art has been a haphazard occurrence.
Now there is a movement, driven by artists but supported by Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, to put a public art program in place. The mayor is still waiting for a master plan being developed for public art to be released, which should be soon, although whatever funding mechanism is devised, it should not add to the cost of development in Providence, since that is already a detriment to the city’s vitality.
In the meantime, a number of artworks have been finding themselves into public spaces, paid for by private companies, building owners and nonprofits, including The Avenue Concept, which is dedicated to supporting public art.
One part of the city with great potential for public art is the former Interstate 195 land. But so far, anyway, while supportive in general, the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission has been reluctant to put anything in writing that would establish public art’s place in the area.
In so many ways, the redevelopment of the former highway land is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull Providence forward into the 21st century, in terms of commercial activity but also in terms of quality of life, something public art contributes to in tangible ways.
So while Providence is taking this great leap forward, public art should not be left behind.