It’s safe to say that most, if not all, of us let out a sigh of relief when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. While nothing has visibly changed – masks, social distancing, and the pandemic are still a thing – we’ve finally entered another year, and one full of hope that the vaccine will return us to whatever we might call normal. Starting with March, let’s reflect on the simultaneously painful, promising, and entirely complicated time we’ve had. After all, they say hindsight is 2020.
From commercial kitchens to local homes, Farm Fresh RI took their distribution app, Market Mobile, and opened it up to a personal grocery service. Lockdown temporarily closed many of their wholesale market customers, so the decision was natural and offered a safe way to connect consumers directly with farm suppliers to have local goods and produce delivered right to their doorstep. With their new hub in the Valley neighborhood officially open, now shoppers can mask up and visit the Farm Fresh Winter Market every Saturday, too.
The Industrious Spirit Company was all set to open their doors for craft vodka and gin tastings in April, and while the pandemic didn’t stop Providence’s first distillery since Prohibition from distributing spirits, it did change up their operations. In the very industrious fashion of 2020, ISCO used ingredients they already had to sling free sanitizer from their Wish We Could Window, where takeout vodka could also be purchased. While the tasting room awaits its debut, a hip patio space welcomes entertainment and food pop-ups over craft cocktails.
During a March 23 press briefing, Governor Gina Raimondo uttered three little words: “Knock it off”, strongly advising – okay, scolding – Rhode Islanders to stay home during the pandemic. Then they returned as jolly letters on a T-shirt next to a bobbing anchor designed by Maret Bondorew for Frog & Toad, the quirky Providence retailer, who received hundreds of pre-orders before the shirt was even printed. With 20 percent of sales benefiting the Rhode Island Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the tee certainly helped raise money and made the moment memorable, even if we didn’t collectively knock it off as much as we should have.
During last spring’s lockdown, in what seemed to be the bleakest of days, a set of marquee letters spelling HOPE began illuminating the squares of Instagram. Often photographed at dusk in front of iconic RI landmarks, the letters are the handiwork of Melanie Jackson, who was ramping up to launch a new venture as everything shut down. “Since I had just started my business, I didn’t have any inventory – letters – so I started to build them. I figured, if for nothing else, I could take my letters around, spread a little hope and happiness, just like the ‘love’ letters did at my wedding.”
While Providence’s iconic brazier-lighting ceremony along the river was cancelled, WaterFire quickly created an equally visual and meaningful art installation in its place. The Beacon of Hope was live-streamed 24/7 and at 8:30pm each night, luminaries were lit for those Rhode Islanders lost to the virus. For the team at WaterFire and beyond, this tradition became a time for grief and healing, loss and love, and of course, hope.
If this year were defined by a single object, it would be the face mask. Early on, Rhode Island Commerce, Styleweek Northeast, and PWCVB teamed up for a social media campaign, aptly titled Mask Up RI, to encourage everyone to wear them. Then, countless individual makers and groups like South County Maskateers and SewHopeSNE used their eye for design to infuse safety with style. Though we do still have to mask up into the new year, at least we’re making it fashionable.
“Oh, it was such a relief – we were all cheering – when the baby was safe!” says zookeeper Jennifer Hennessy, of the May birth of a baby sloth at Roger Williams Park Zoo. Hennessey oversees the Faces of the Rainforest exhibit where the sloths reside. Thanks to the zoo’s conservation efforts, lots of engaging social media – including YouTube – multitudes were engaged in watching the mama sloth Fiona, who became a sort of mascot of a slowed-down COVID-19 world.
A socially distanced summer saw the opportunity for one retro tradition to make a comeback: drive-in movies. Of course, North Smithfield’s Rustic Tri View Drive-In, operating since the ‘50s, never missed a beat when it came to this fad, but some plucky artsy organizations saw the chance to create their own drive-in screens across the state. The Collaborative’s drive-in at Cutler Mills, newportFILM Outdoors, Hearthside House, and United Theatre and Knickerbocker concert screenings at the Misquamicut Drive-In all drew in cars of spectators.
Defying pandemic odds, new food businesses continued to pop up across the state, whether a small joint filling a hole they saw in their neighborhood like Black Beans PVD in the West End or downtown boutique bar Marcelino’s. Blush Bakeshop, a vegan bakery set to open their doors in the spring, shifted gears to deliver make-and-bake poptart kits and is now settled into their Atwells digs. The East Bay welcomed the likes of Waterdog, Groundswell, and Plant City X, and No Bull became a new steak house staple in Westerly. And that’s just to name a few newcomers who emerged in the food industry in 2020.
After riots in Downcity Providence destroyed storefronts along Westminster Street, a magical thing happened: Artists from around the city turned plywood into murals to social justice, painting colorful images memorializing George Floyd and celebrating Black lives, which are now displayed at 1 Eddy Street. Then in August, locals, artist Tamara Díaz, and Rhode Island Latino Arts teamed up to paint along Broad Street to create El Museo del Barrio, or Sidewalk Museum. Meanwhile, AGONZA, Kendel Joseph, Jessica Brown, and ABOVE worked on The Avenue Concept’s VOTE mural, completed toward the close of the month and ready to inspire voters for a record-breaking turnout in Rhode Island.
Believe it or not, the Jamestown Arts Center had already planned for this massive outdoor art installation before the pandemic ever even hit. Of course, that doesn’t mean logistics didn’t become challenging, but the result was pretty impressive: an island-wide series of curated sculptures made by local artists for Rhode Islanders to explore with a map or stumble upon serendipitously.
While the Providence Performing Arts Center was forced to shutter for the show season, the intermission meant opportunity for a new project: restoring the theater’s historic terracotta facade. With any luck, the makeover will be complete by PPAC’s projected return in mid to late 2021. Psst...stay tuned for the potential return of Hamilton!
On August 19 Little Rhody makes national news for “winning” the roll-call at the Democratic National Convention – not for State Democratic Party Chairman Joseph McNamara announcing 34 votes for Biden as the Democrats’ nominee – but for Iggy’s Executive Chef John Bordieri proudly holding a plate of calamari.
Using a catchphrase mostly shouted by bar bouncers and moms, Governor Raimondo directed Rhode Islanders to Take It Outside. Putting money where her mouth was, Raimondo made five million dollars available to increase outdoor activities in an effort to reduce the transmission rate of COVID-19. In addition to providing funds for modifications, State-owned land was made available for fitness classes, outdoor meetings, and recreational activities. The Rhode Island Hospitality Association used a portion of their funds to purchase blankets for restaurants so that patrons could keep cozy outdoors in case they forgot to bring their own blankets.
Typically, October means Roger Williams Park Zoo is packed – not for the animals, but for the thousands of carved pumpkins during the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. This year was no different, except for the fact it was hundreds of cars trundling down the path instead of people, so visitors could still check off this Halloween-time bucket list item, but safely.
It’s been a big year for racial justice not just around the country, but around our little state. From peaceful protests, to Mayor Elorza’s plan for reparations that made national news in July, to the recent vote to remove “Plantations” from the official state name, we’ve made some major strides that we only hope continue into 2021.
While a packed house once drew excitement and buzz, live theater was one of the first things the pandemic shuttered – and one of the most difficult to revive anew. Some venues, like the Epic Theatre Co. and FringePVD, hit the ground running with virtual content, and over time as restrictions eased, The Wilbury Theatre Group conceptualized an outdoor stage for the debut of Decameron, Providence in front of socially distanced onlookers at the WaterFire Arts Center. Trinity Rep’s classic showing of A Christmas Carol went virtual – and free – to keep the spirit alive, and Festival Ballet hit the drive-in for an outdoor performance met with car horns for applause. Meanwhile, venues across the state, including the Greenwich Odeum sporting fresh renovations, begin to invite limited numbers back inside for performances almost like before.