As Riverzedge Arts prepares to celebrate 20 years of empowering northern Rhode Island youth through hands-on art and design programming, 2022 also brings $25,000 in funding for a multimedia project beautifying downtown Woonsocket. Among over 1,000 nationwide projects, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded Riverzedge this grant for “The Blackstone Meets Main Street.”
“We’re very excited to partner with the City of Woonsocket and other community stakeholders for this multimedia installation and mixed-used venue for cultural activities,” shares communications and development assistant Geo Darrow, describing a blend of photo and video imagery and auditory soundscapes that will transform Main Street, portraying the Blackstone River in all of its “seasonal changes and moods.”
“Hidden speakers and video projectors will project these sensory images over the walls and parking lots of the city’s downtown core, visually, audibly, and imaginatively reconnecting Main Street to the natural landscape obscured by Woonsocket’s contemporary built environment,” Darrow continues. These immersive glimpses and soundbites of the river are gathered by visual media students throughout the year. It’s one of many community-focused projects youth who go through Riverzedge’s paid studio programs – which also include graphic design, print works, and public art – engage in.
“Youth in our studios create real-world products both for sale on our website and for paying clients,” says Darrow. “In doing so, we provide them with hands-on experience with industry-standard tools and skills while offering the chance to see how their artistic talents can translate into practical career opportunities and develop a sense of pride and professionalism with respect to their work.”
Along with after-school programming, Riverzedge Arts provides academic tutoring and support to help students achieve a minimum grade requirement to continue pursuing studio work, as well as Expanded Learning Opportunities to earn academic credit outside of the classroom. Building on a more holistic approach, and in response to the hardships of COVID, the arts organization even opened a free “grocery store” of pantry goods and they’re working on offering access to counselors and mental health professionals – all contributing to a foundation of success.
Looking back on 20 years, Darrow shares highlights including earning a National Arts and Humanities Youth Programs Award in 2010 (which gave students the chance to meet then First Lady Michelle Obama) and installing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at the intersection of Mason Street and South Main. Artistic director Brad Fesmire echoes the feelings of all staff when he says, “The end of every year is a standout moment for us, when our graduating seniors are accepted to jobs and universities and other cool projects.”
With the help of the NEA grant to fund media and installation hardware, artistic and technical consultation, and more, the team at Riverzedge Arts looks forward to unveiling The Blackstone Meets Main Street – more than an educational experience, it’s an opportunity to engage meaningfully with the Woonsocket community.
“Our city has a rich history, stretching from the first settlements of the Pequot and the Wampanoag to the 18th-century foundries and the vast factories of the Industrial Revolution,” says Darrow. “In every period, the Blackstone River has shaped Woonsocket’s culture and economy. By reconnecting the river’s many pasts to residents’ and visitors’ imaginative perceptions of our present and future, we hope to lay the foundation for revitalizing Woonsocket’s creative economy.”
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