A recap of some of the year’s more memorable events and milestones. Think I missed anything? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
1. Chaos reigned behind the scenes at Bristol Art Museum this June, as the museum’s board tried to censor work by a local artist. Group exhibit Dead Ringer was canceled no less than three times before it even opened, because board members objected to curator Elizabeth Duffy’s inclusion of work [pictured above] from local artist Bradley Wester. Alison DeKleine, the show’s lone supporter on the board, was removed from her position as vice president just days after the show opened, though the exhibit eventually ended up running without interruption.
2. Artists staged protests this summer at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. What does that have to do with Rhode Island? The museum was founded by the parents of trustee Mariner Kemper, the current CEO of UMB Bank. That bank sued the city of Central Falls this year after the Wyatt Detention Facility Board suspended a contact with ICE to jail detained immigrants. Local protests at Wyatt made national headlines after a prison guard drove his pickup truck into a gathering of peaceful protesters. Mariner Kemper and his stepbrother Sandy, the bank’s former CEO, both remain on the board, while members of the Jewish group Never Again Action were arrested in Kansas City just last week.
3. The Christopher Columbus statue in Providence was vandalized on Columbus Day, and again in late November. Though the statue has been regularly vandalized on Columbus Day since at least 2010, this year it seemed like all the opinion havers came out of the woodwork to decry the sentiment. Some suggested moving the statue to Federal Hill, although an Onionesque GoLocalProv editorial suggested that the neighborhood is too dangerous for a statue. (To be fair, a police officer crashing into a tailor shop was just the first of several bizarre vehicular mishaps on the Hill this year.) Johnston mayor Joe Polisena, meanwhile, suggested that Italian-Americans boycott Providence businesses.
4. In 2016, voters approved a $5.8 million bond to replace Narragansett’s Maury Loontjens library with a larger, more modern building. The current library is too small for many public programs, and not up to fire code or accessibility standards. In October 2018, the town council bought the former Belmont Market in the Pier Marketplace with the hopes of turning it into a new library. The following month, a new council was elected and that’s when everything fell apart. In January, the council put the building back on the market. After several private meetings, a sale was announced to a Connecticut developer who wanted to build a “European style food market”. A grassroots coalition called Love Your Library filed a lawsuit against the town, and the developer bailed in October, leaving everything less clear than ever. On a brighter note, one patron’s letter to Reader’s Digest led to the current library being named one of the Nicest Places in America.
5. Fall River kicked off Pride month with a Drag Queen Story Time featuring local queen Naomi Chomsky. An article in the Fall River Herald News mentioned that a similar event had been scheduled and then canceled in Bristol, with library director Joan Prescott quoted as saying that the story hour may be “something more diverse communities can appreciate.” After a public outcry the event was back on as originally planned, going off on June 15 without a hitch, though the attention prompted a number of other organizations to organize similar events this summer: Providence Community Library, Newport Art Museum, RISD Museum, and the Island Free Library on Block Island all had drag story hours without incident. This fall the independently organized events took home the Dorry for Best Reading Series.
6. This spring The Graduate took over from The Biltmore in downtown Providence. While the iconic Biltmore sign remains, the hotel underwent a major overhaul on the inside, including the inexplicable decision to place a portrait of Buddy Cianci in every room. The paintings were done by artist Michael Kirkbride for Julie Coyle Art Associates, a Bay Area firm that specializes in hotel art. Cianci spent two terms in jail, lost his final mayoral race, and none of his three degrees came from a Rhode Island college or university, though the hotel chain is essentially college-themed. After a public outcry the paintings were removed and replaced with less sinister works from local artist Atabey Sánchez-Haiman. For those interested in the Buddy paintings, they’re being sold for $160 and there seem to only be six left.
8. Motif Magazine scrambled to find a new home for its theater awards after the Diocese of Providence pulled the plug on the show, originally scheduled for the church-owned McVinney Auditorium. That’s because awards host Kevin Broccoli had written an open letter in Motif, criticizing Twitter enthusiast and Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin for a tweet advising Catholics to avoid local Pride celebrations. Broccoli’s letter was blunt—”You are a relic amongst relics that will one day be forgotten,” he told the bishop—but the playwright was hardly alone in his criticism. Tobin’s tweet led to replies from the mayor, the governor, and Mia Farrow, as well as a large protest at the cathedral in early June.
9. A few months later, Kevin Broccoli produced a staged reading of a Woonsocket City Council meeting.
10. Researchers at Brown looked into the action paintings of Jackson Pollock and how, exactly, he managed to avoid paint coiling. Read the research in the academic journal PLOS ONE, or just read the press release to get the gist of what it all means. Among other things, the research is expected to be helpful with authenticating whether Pollock works are forgeries or not.
11. Rhode Island Historical Society completed conservation work on a fabric curtain that might just be the oldest surviving piece of American theater scenery. Painted with a panorama of Providence, the fifteen foot tall curtain was shown at the society’s annual meeting in November. It was painted in 1809 by John Worrall and donated in 1833.
12. Providence Public School Department raised some eyebrows this summer after Interim Superindendent Frances Gallo ordered sixteen thousand copies of an inspirational self-published book using words of advice from professional basketball players. Shoot Your Shot: A Sport-Inspired Guide To Living Your Best Life was written by Maryland author Vernon Brundage, and the books were meant to be distributed to every middle school and high school student in the city. Some teachers balked at the book’s religious undertones, but Brundage later visited local students. It’s unclear who paid for that visit.
14. A year after acquiring the Power Rangers, Hasbro continued its aggressive buying with the announced $4 billion purchase of multinational juggernaut Entertainment One, which owns Peppa Pig and… Death Row Records.
15. Public art is all the rage across the country these days, and so many murals went up everywhere you looked. They were all over Providence, from the east side to the west side to downtown. (The southside was pretty mural-heavy to begin with, but the neighborhood got a wild basketball court courtesy of PC—Galleries and the non-profit My HomeCourt.) The postcard-styled coyote at the top of this post was made by students from Wheeler School; you can find it on the side of Sneaker Junkies on Thayer Street in Providence. It wasn’t just capital city, though, as murals also popped up in Newport, Pawtucket, and Warwick. Library aficionados might want to visit the indoor mural in Tiverton.
16. Domenic Esposito’s 800-pound Opioid Spoon was dropped in front of Rhodes Pharma, an opioid manufacturer quietly located in Coventry. (Almost no one knew the company was even there until Stephen Colbert’s exposé in 2018.)
Jennifer Lawrence married art dealer Cooke Maroney at Newport’s Belcourt Castle in October. Emma Stone, Kris Jenner, Cameron Diaz, and Adele were among the guests. The photo above is an unrelated still from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), because I’m not getting sued for posting actual wedding photos.
Like Lawrence, comedian Jenny Slate followed the trend of Hollywood women dumping movie star boyfriends for art dealers. Slate, who famously dated Captain America for a while, announced her engagement to Ben Shattuck, writer and curator of Dedee Shattuck Gallery in Westport.
Three different men were arrested on three separate occasions for breaking into Taylor Swift’s Watch Hill mansion this summer. Only one was polite enough to leave his shoes at the front door.
Koto is a new sushi bar that’s also booking metal shows. It’s located in the space formerly occupied by Rebel Lounge (and before that Ri Ra).
Good Will Engine Company is a new live music venue (and Airbnb) where Firehouse 13 used to be.
RISD opened a new Color Lab for interdisciplinary chromatic research.
Based at The Artists’ Exchange in Cranston, the new WomensWork Theatre Collaborative is presenting its first full season, three plays about madness.
The Providence Book Festival debuted in April with a big (albeit sparsely attended) bang.
The inaugural Block Island Film Festival took place in June.
Fall River debuted the FABRIC Arts Festival in September.
Pawtucket’s Burbage Theatre signed a five-year lease on a space across the Blackstone from its last riverfront home. The new space opened this fall with David Ives’ School for Lies.
After a year off and two sexual harassment allegations against its founder and (now former) artistic director, Westerly’s Colonial Theatre returned to Wilcox Park this summer.
The long neglected Bomes Theater in Providence reopened last winter. A grand opening was held in March, a month after Providence Preservation Society hosted its annual Winter Bash there.
After a year on tour, Common Fence Music returned to Portsmouth this fall.
Middletown’s Island Books was put up for sale early this summer, and while a number of people expressed interest, owners Judy and Gary Crosby are holding out to find the right person (or people) to take over the shop, hopefully by 2021.
Gallerist Michele Aucoin-Paciorek passed away in August. Aucoin owned ArtProv, the Dorry-winning art gallery in the Jewelry District.
Local artist/musician (and close personal friend) Matthew Underwood died in March.
Jack Renner, recording engineer and co-founder of the music label Telarc, passed away this summer at his home in Portsmouth.
Katherine Helmond, best known for TV sitcoms Soap and Who’s the Boss?, died at the age of 89. She spent several years at Trinity Rep in the 1960s, famously playing Blance DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1966–1967) and Lady Macbeth (1968–1969).
Providence-born actor David Hedison [pictured] died at the age of 92. Original star of The Fly (later remade with Jeff Goldblum) and sixties TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Hedison also appeared in two James Bond movies and had a stint on The Young and the Restless.
Other local artists who passed in 2019 include visual artists Gail Armstrong, Max Bready, John DeMelim, Diana Dunn, Richard Fraenkel, Daved Ferrell Miller; musicians David Ayriyan and Debra Morton; and composer George P. Masso.
Email email@example.com if you think there’s anyone I missed.
The Bachelorette went to Newport.
Tom DeNucci’s drama Vault, about the 1975 bonded vault heist, opened in June.
The Bootlegger [pictured], a film about Prohibition-era rum runners, also filmed in Newport this year.
AMC’s locally shot horror series NOS4A2 premiered in June. Despite middling reviews, the Ashleigh Cummings and Zachary Quinto horror series was later renewed for a second season.
NOT LOCALLY FILMED
Made in Rhode Island is the name of a TV pilot about a bisexual DJ who returns home to operate her dad’s cigar shop. Citing Massachusetts’ tax incentives, the producers filmed the episode in Worcester.
Rhode Islanders did very well at the Oscars this year. Cumberland native Peter Farelly’s widely criticized Green Book won Best Picture, surprising a lot of people who for some reason expected the award to go to Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, even though that film was black and white, in a foreign language, and made for television. The Best Documentary Short award went to Period. End of Sentence, which was executive produced by Brown student Charlotte Silverman. RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening was nominated for Best Documentary Feature, surprising fans of that Mister Rogers documentary. Ross didn’t win, but the film did later get a Dorry.
North Providence native and URI graduate Mary Testa was nominated for a Tony Award. She played Aunt Eller in the acclaimed Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!. (The show goes on tour and stops at PPAC in March.)
Local illustrator Oge Mora’s picture book Thank You, Omu! received a Caldecott Honor Award, one of the most prestigious honors in children’s book publishing.
2020 (AND BEYOND)
Documentary filmmaker Julie Sokolow premiered Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story in Indianapolis this October. It’s about the Providence writer and climate activist who died in early 2017 while walking barefoot across the United States. Can we get a local screening somewhere?
The restoration of Newport’s Opera House seems to have stalled, again.
Brown University unveiled plans (and then started construction) on a new performing arts center. New York firm REX is designing the space, which sounds pretty interesting.