The Contemporaries will officially debut on Thursday, October 16, with a public reception from 6 to 8 pm at the Dean Hotel. The hotel and the library are bound spiritually: the Athenaeum is known for its embrace of all things related to Marcel Proust, including a packed reading group in which members read the wordy novelist’s seven-volume In Search of Lost Time over the course of three years. The hotel, still less than a year old, has the book’s first sentence painted on the side of its building: “For a long time, I went to bed early.” At the October 16 event, Contemporaries will receive a private tour of the hotel, and they hope to lure curious like-minded young adults who will already be downtown on a Thursday evening.
The Athenaeum is one of fewer than two dozen membership libraries still active in the United States, though unlike sister libraries in Boston and Newport, the programs here are free and open to the public. Members pay for checkout privileges, to support the 176-year-old building, and for the benefit of reciprocal memberships to the RISD Library and AS220.
“Libraries in other cities have done similar programs for young people,” says Christina Bevilacqua, the Athenaeum’s director of programs and public engagement, “and they’re aimed specifically at the young corporate set of bankers and lawyers who will become the library’s major donors in 20 or 30 years.”
But Providence can’t do that in the same way that New York or Boston can, she says. “What we have here instead is an incredibly vital creative class, who are either from here originally or who came for school and decided to stay. There are cities where you could start a group like this and [only] six people would come, but Providence is a very iconoclastic city.”
Joining the Contemporaries is free, and members need not belong to the Athenaeum to take part. For more info, go to providenceathenaeum.org/contemporaries/thecontemporaries.html.