Arts & Culture

AmCiv class studies local Cape Verdeans

By
Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Students in Professor Steven Lubar’s AMCV1550: “Methods in Public Humanities” will unveil their collaborative final project –– an exhibit about the community of Cape Verdean immigrants that inhabited the Fox Point region in the 1930s –– on Saturday, May 9 at the John Nicholas Brown center.

The class, which examines the curatorial aspects of public showcases, puts up an exhibit each year. The students voted to create the Cape Verde project through a partnership with Claire Andrade-Watkins, a professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College and a visiting scholar at Brown’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Andrade-Watkins grew up in one of Providence’s tight-knit Cape Verdean communities. The neighborhood, once concentrated in the area around Wickenden Street, has since devolved into smaller pockets around the state. The fragmentation of the neighborhood is attributed to many causes, including the construction of Interstate-95.

The focus of the exhibit, however, is on the “Golden Age” of this Cape Verdean community from the 1930s to 1950s, not the reasons behind its recent splintering.

Andrade-Watkins, whom Dan Lurie ’11, a student in the class, calls “the driving force behind this project,” has been the primary link between students and the families who have since moved from Fox Point to East Providence, South Providence, Cranston and other areas. All the artifacts used in the exhibit were provided by these Cape Verdean community members, a change for Lubar’s course from years past when most pieces necessary for the final exhibit could be gathered from the University’s existing collection.
Lurie, who is part of the project’s publishing team, hopes visitors to the exhibit will gain an understanding about how much the area has changed, evolving from a residential area to an area that caters almost exclusively to shoppers and restaurant-goers.

Fox Point “used to be a community center,” he said. “Now it’s just a place we go on the weekends.”

Lubar echoed Lurie’s sentiments, saying, “Many Brown students would be surprised to learn that 50 years ago it was a very different kind of place. It’s important for students to have an understanding of that local history that disappears too easily.”

Both Lurie and Lubar drew attention to the gentrification of the area and how the restaurants and businesses have taken over spaces which used to house Cape Verdean immigrant families. Utrecht, the art supply store, Lurie pointed out, used to be a hardware store, and a library from that “Golden” era is now an antique store.

Lubar said the port on Narragansett Bay, which used to provide most of the jobs for the working men in the Cape Verdean community, has now almost completely disappeared.
As the students put the final touches on the Fox Point exhibit, Lubar said he hopes it will act as a truthful representation of Fox Point’s Cape Verdean district, becoming as informative a project for visitors as it has been for his students.

“The challenge in an exhibit like this,” said Lubar, “is that it has to be both a useful educational experience for the students who are doing it, but at the same time respectful and interesting to the community that it is about.”

The exhibit, which will run through October, will be on display in the Carriage House Gallery at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage.