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Look at that!

The splendor of Providence's new public art
By PHILIP EIL  |  July 23, 2014

"I Walk Along This Earth, Therefore I Dream," by Sophia Sobers

It’s been a good summer for public spaces in Providence.

On Monday, July 14, various officials gathered off Gano Street, in Fox Point, for an opening of the city’s only public boat launch — a place where citizens can now shove off in kayaks and canoes to reenact Roger Williams’s famous, “What cheer, Netop?” ride marking his arrival in 1636. The following day, the city broke ground on renovations intended to make Kennedy Plaza more like Manhattan’s Bryant Park than the crowded, paved-over, exhaust-clouded gathering place we’ve grown accustomed to. Meanwhile, the city’s PopUp Providence initiative continues to bear all kinds of wacky, delicious fruit. (See our report from last week on PVD Putt Putt, the temporary mini-golf course at the Dexter Training Grounds on the West End; then check out this week’s “This Just In” article on downtown’s PVD Polaroid Project.)

But here at the Phoenix, we’re most pleased to see the increasing number of colorful, beautiful, provocative works of public art springing up around town. Two groups, in particular, stand out: the sculptures and structures currently sprinkled across the land where Interstate 195 used to curve its way through the city, and the new art installations dotting the route of RIPTA’s new R-Line (a “rapid bus line” that absorbs and improves on former Routes 11 and 99) along Broad and North Main streets.

There are too many pieces in these collections to highlight each here, individually; you’ll have to ride the R-Line and roam the I-195 pastures to do that. But we’ve plucked a few pieces from the pack to give you a sense of the ideas behind them.

Consider it a guide to informed ogling.


ARTIST | Sophia Sobers

INSTALLATION | “I Walk Along This Earth, Therefore I Dream”

LOCATION | “Parcel 34” at East Franklin and Friendship streets

IN THEIR WORDS | I graduated [from] RISD last year and I stuck around in the area. And when I saw the call for art, I thought it was an interesting opportunity to try out public art. I was like, “Well, why not? I have nothing to lose.”

It was very exciting and also very stressful, since I’m a younger artist. This is the first contract I’ve had to deal with. Then I realized I have to get my own insurance…[and be] thinking about [how] this is a public, outdoor piece. What if someone scratches themself on it and decides to sue me? Things like that.

[But then] when I installed this piece, there was person who came up to me from the area. He was like, “I just want to say, ‘Thank you’ for putting this up. It’s beautiful and I really appreciate it.” And towards the end of when I was installing the piece, there was a high school kid on a skateboard . . . passing by [who] stopped to take photos.

I’m really happy that the high school kid was in awe of the piece. Hopefully, he’s going to think of other creative things to do. Since I teach high schoolers sometimes, I really like when they get inspired, and I try to show them all these different things that they might not know about — with photography, at least. So when I saw the kid, I sort of thought about myself at his age getting inspired by different things that I saw around me. For me, at least, that’s why I think public art matters.


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