Arts and Culture in Rhode Island
One of Rhode Island's historic nicknames is "The Southern Gateway of New England" because it was the most southern New England state that had harbors deep enough for ocean-going ships. Thus, much of New England’s imported and exported goods passed through Rhode Island—giving it a unique culture with worldly artistic influences right from its beginnings in the 17th century.
Although small in size, Rhode Island is a cultured place with plenty of educational opportunities. Schools like Brown University, New England Institute of Technology, Rhode Island School of Design, and Providence College provide top-notch educations and contribute to Rhode Island’s great depth in the arts and culture.
Opera Providence offers performances, education, and opera access to a culturally diverse audience. It also provides performance opportunities for local opera talent. Its educational and outreach program,OPERAtunity, performs in schools all over Rhode Island. In the first decade of the 21st century, OPERAtunity reached over 35,000 children, youth, and adults.
Founded in 2000, the Salt Marsh Opera Company offers professional opera in Rhode Island and Connecticut. It raises awareness of the art form via educational programs and live productions in small settings. It offers open dress rehearsals, productions in local schools, and a student intern program. The opera’s productions utilize auditioned, professional singers, a chorus made up of regional singers, and a professional orchestra. Occasionally the opera works with a children’s chorus composed of students from local schools and music schools.
Festival Ballet Providence is a professional company founded in 1978 that teaches children ballet through its Educational Outreach programming and a series of ballets specially written for children. Additionally, the FBP Center for Dance Education teaches children and adults in the Providence community. It offers programs for amateur dancers as well as artists aspiring to work professionally.
The State Ballet of Rhode Island began in 1960 and was Rhode Island’s first established classical ballet company in residence. Its "Explore Ballet Workshop" offers an onsite ballet curriculum including demonstrations and short performances. Its "Field Trip to the Ballet" program gives students the chance to see ballet with guidance by the choreographer, who discusses issues such as staging, music, lighting, physical training, and the history of ballet.
The Rhode Island Philharmonic is a fully integrated professional orchestra and music school serving approximately 14,500 children, youth, and adults. It teaches private instrument and vocal lessons, classes and performance ensembles, classical, pop, jazz, and rhythm and blues.
The Rhode Island Civic Chorale & Orchestra was established in Providence in 1957. It is made up of approximately 90 men and women from all over Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts. The orchestra is composed of professional musicians, including members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. Soloists performing with the chorale are opera and classical music professionals. The chorale presents a minimum of three major choral concerts every year.
Rhode Island is famous for its array of music festivals. The world-renowned Newport Jazz Festivalwas started by George Wein in 1954; the first festival was held at the Newport Casino. Today, the festival is held every August in Fort Adams State Park at the mouth of Newport Harbor, with views of Narragansett Bay. The festival is especially renowned for Miles Davis’ "'Round Midnight" 1955 solo and the Duke Ellington Orchestra's 1956 rendition of "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue."
Co-founded by Wein, the Newport Folk Festival began five years after the Jazz Festival, in 1959. Nearly all of folk music greats, as well as many rock greats, have preformed at the festival, including Pete Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Alison Krauss, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Ry Cooder, Suzanne Vega, and the Indigo Girls.
Originally conceived as a summer season for the Metropolitan Opera, the Newport Music Festivalbegan in 1969 as a celebration of classical music. The festival is known for debuting young international artists, such as Inessa Galante. It includes specially selected works from 19th-century chamber music, vocal repertoire, and Romantic-era piano literature.
But Rhode Island music isn't all about festivals. Providence has a vibrant, creative local independent music scene. The capital city has produced a number of noise rock bands, notably Lightning Bolt andArab on Radar. A number of musicians attended the Rhode Island School of Design, including three members of the legendary Talking Heads, who met at the school. Brown University was also home to a number of famed musicians, including Lisa Loeb, Will Oldham, and Duncan Sheik. Other famous Rhode Island music artists are John Cafferty, Draco and the Malfoys, Blu Cantrell, Billy Gillman,Sage Francis, Monty Are I, Combustible Edison, and The Cowsills, the musical family that was the inspiration for the TV show The Partridge Family.
Monologist, actor, and writer Spalding Gray was born in Providence and raised in Barrington. He is best known for his roles in films such as The Killing Fields and for his one-man stage show based on his experiences making the movie, Swimming to Cambodia, which was later adapted into its own film.
Brown University’s Theatre Arts and Performance Studies offers both a Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studes and MFA in Acting and Directing. Brown also offers several other theater programs such as "Rites and Reason Theatre" in Africana Studies. Performances take place in the Leeds Theatre, the Stuart Theatre, and the Ashamu Dance Studio.
Providence Black Repertory Company (Black Rep) offers theater and other African diaspora cultural events. It was founded in 1996 by Artistic/Executive Director Donald W. King and performed its first production on the third floor of an old print shop in Providence. Black Rep programming includes a Latin Jazz series, youth drumming workshops, and premiers of new American plays. It also organizes a summer music festival. Black Rep works to offer a context for all its artistic work by offering humanities panels, discussions, printed materials, and community outreach.
Trinity Repertory Company is a Tony Award–winning resident company that performs classic and contemporary plays. The company has produced 57 world premieres. Its resident acting company offers seven shows every season, including its signature A Christmas Carol, which it reinvents every year. The Company’s Project Discovery matinees have introduced over a million school children to theater, and its Young Actors Studio caters to local children interested in acting.
Rhode Island's most famous filmmaking sons are probably the Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, who were raised in Cumberland. The siblings have written, directed, and produced such comedy films asThere's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, and Kingpin.
Most famous for composing the Rocky score, Providence-born Bill Conti is a film music composer who is often conducts the orchestra at the annual Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.
Rhode Island has produced a number of world-class authors. Cormac McCarthy was born in Providence in 1933. He has written numerous novels and screenplays in multiple genres and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for his novel The Road. The film adaptation of his No Country for Old Men won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and his novel All the Pretty Horses won a National Book Award in 1992.
Jhumpa Lahiri, a short fiction author and novelist, grew up in Kingston. Her father worked as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island. Her first short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The film The Namesake was based on her first novel of the same name, published in 2003. Lahiri has taught creative writing at Boston University and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Considered one of the most influential American poets of the second half of the 20th century, Providence-bornGalway Kinnell's best-known poems are "St. Francis and the Sow" and "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps."
Cartoonist Don Bousquet lampoons Rhode Island culture in the Providence Journal and Yankeemagazine. He has published many collections of his cartoons, including I Brake for Quahogs, Beware of the Quahog, and The Quahog Walks Among Us. Bousquet also worked with humorist Mark Patinkin onThe Rhode Island Dictionary and The Rhode Island Handbook.
The famous Rhode Island School of Design was founded in 1877 in Providence. The school boasts a vital group of artists and designers and is home to about 2,200 students, 350 faculty and curators, and 400 staff members. More than 200 well-known artists, critics, and authors visit the campus every year to work with students.
The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts has a robust set of programs supporting the arts. The arts council gives competitive grants to Rhode Island artists, non-profit organizations, schools, and municipal and state governments units. It also provides technical help, information services, a slide registry, and partnerships in the state.
The Pawtucket Arts Collaborative was founded by a group of 25 artists led by Pat Zacks in 2000 at Slater Mill. It offers lectures, presentations, art shows, and more to the Pawtucket community and works to provide a space where artists can collaborate and support each other.
English painter John Noble Barlow lived in Providence for a period and was a member of theProvidence Art Club. He taught many students who went on to become famous painters in their own right, such as Herbert George, Anna A. Hills, and Edgar Nye.
Rhode Islanders created a unique style of architecture in the 17th century in which one wall of a house is made up of a large stone chimney. This style is aptly called "stone-ender." Stone-ender houses were typically framed with timber, were one and one-half or two stories high, and had one room on each floor.
The style developed as soon as Roger Williams and other colonists from England settled in the region in 1636. They quickly adapted British architectural designs to their new life and environment in Rhode Island. Since there was lots of stone, timber, and limestone (other New England states had very little limestone), colonists built stone-enders. Most of the lime came from Limerock quarry in Lincoln. There are only a handful of stone-ender houses left nowadays. The Clement Weaver House andClemence-Irons House are two examples. Armand LaMontagne, a contemporary Scituate sculptor, built a sizeable stone-ender in the 1970s.
Newport, Rhode Island, is world-famous for its magnificent mansions, including the estates The Breakers, Rosecliff, Marble House, Chateau sur Mer, The Elms, and Green Animals. ThePreservation Society of Newport County operates 11 historic properties and landscapes. Seven of them are designated National Historic Landmarks and all of them help illustrate architectural and social development in the U.S. from Colonial times through the Gilded Age.
The society itself is headquartered in a three-story Romanesque Revival mansion on Bellevue Avenue. It was constructed in 1888 as a summerhouse for William H. Osgood of New York. The Preservation Society extensively restored and renovated the building in 1992 for use as its administrative office.
The Breakers in one of the most sumptuous private homes ever built in Newport. After becoming chairman and president of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885, Cornelius Vanderbilt II bought a wooden house in Newport. He soon hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa to replace the earlier wood-framed house that had been destroyed by a fire. Hunt created a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo to look like one of the 16th-century palaces in Genoa and Turin.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Rhode Island has a long history of folk art, producing everything from Narragansett ceramics to Portuguese lace. The Charles I.D. Looff Carousel (also known as the Crescent Park Carousel) was named the Rhode Island state symbol of American folk art in 1985. The Looff carousel is one of the few handmade carousels still in use and all that is left of a Victorian amusement park. Considered a sculptural masterpiece, its menagerie consists of 56 hand-carved wooden jumping horses, six stationary horses, four chariots, and one camel. Musical accompaniment is provided by a Wurlitzer military band organ, and the carousel boasts decorative panels, beveled mirrors, faceted glass jewels, electric lights, and colored sandwich glass.
-World Trade Press