Monday, June 11, 2012

Correcting The Record

And my faulty memory. Reader t writes in:

Just to correct the record, there was no official denial of permission for WaterFire when it first happened. In fact, Barnaby Evans was commissioned by the Providence Parks Department to create it. He first presented it to First Night, the New Year's Eve festival, and with funding from the City, they put on a small version in 1994. It was successful, but there wasn't any thought of carrying it on. But in June 1996, the piece was revived as part of Providence's Convergence Sculpture Festival, run to coincide with a sculpture conference at the new convention center. The (de)construction of the river bridges was complete and the new park was finished, and the director of programming in the Parks Dept named Bob Rizzo thought that WaterFire was the way to celebrate. Rizzo is himself a sculptor and was why the conference was in Providence that year. So they put it up again and to everyone's surprise 10,000 people showed up. I was there that night, and was one of the people wandering around open-mouthed at the crowds. So the Parks Dept lit it up again a couple of weeks later when the Olympic torch came running through, and 10,000 more people showed up. And at that point, the city went to Barnaby and asked him to continue it.

I only offer this account because I think it's worth pointing out that this very cool and somewhat category-breaking event happened because a Parks Department functionary -- a faceless government bureaucrat, some might call him -- thought it would be a good idea. Your account makes it sound like the doughty artist prevailed against the imagination-free status quo, but it wasn't that at all, and creative and interesting people within the government were involved from the beginning, and were the ones who first saw its value to the city.