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Kennedy Plaza Launches Our Town Initiative

Last week, Greater Kennedy Plaza formally launched its Our Town initiative with an official kick-off event at the Rhode Island Foundation. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse joined Mayor Angel Taveras in congratulating the city for winning a competitive $200,000 creative placemaking grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Providence received one of the highest awards of the 51 recipient communities, putting us in good company with much larger cities.

The Our Town grant supports an unprecedented collaboration between 17 arts and business partners to transform Greater Kennedy Plaza into a vibrant arts and cultural destination. According to the mayor, the goal is to “make Kennedy Plaza a more special place than it already it is. Great things are coming our way, and Kennedy Plaza is just one part of it.” As Senator Whitehouse said, “this could be one of the coolest places around.” He acknowledged that the plaza has always been a bit underutilized, and he encouraged everyone to imagine the park filled with kids, sculptures, tables, umbrellas, art shows, and bus activities.

After beginning to focus on the area in 2006, the Greater Kennedy Plaza working group expanded in 2008, with RIPTA, the city, the education department, and the police department taking active roles. Nonprofit planning organization Project for Public Spaces led a community workshop, encouraging the group to think about programming, design and linkages. That summer, Deb Dormody was hired as the first Kennedy Plaza program manager. 

Since then, the group has made tremendous progress, bringing high quality public programming to the park and adding new amenities such as cafe tables, benches and plantings. They have fostered events like the Bolivian festival and the street painting festival and have worked with artists on special site-specific programs like a month-long tape art installation. They have also created their own programs like Noon Tunes and the Beer Garden Music Series, and introduced transformative children’s programs like weekly storytelling. Kennedy Plaza has also been home to the downtown farmers’ market for several years, and it’s become a major destination for food trucks. 

The Greater Kennedy Plaza Coalition now has an executive director, Cliff Wood, along with a board of directors. Since last summer, the coalition has worked with the City of Providence Department of Art Culture + Tourism and FirstWorks to lay the groundwork for the 2012 season. The NEA grant will allow the group to bring in larger cultural partners and to focus on design and community engagement. 

More details on programming will be announced soon. Public art projects will begin this spring, the summer music and family programming will kick off in late June, and a fall festival will follow in September.

The Our Town partners are: AS220; Citizens Bank; CityArts for Youth; Coalition for Community Development; City of Providence, Department of Parks and Recreation; Department of Planning and Development; Department of Art, Culture + Tourism; Downtown Improvement District; FirstWorks; Festival Ballet; Greater Kennedy Plaza; National Endowment for the Arts; Project for Public Spaces; Providence Foundation; Rhode Island School of Design; Rhode Island Public Transit Authority; The Steel Yard; Trinity Repertory Company and WaterFire. 

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