Saturday’s sun shone on an unlikely scene near Kennedy Plaza. Children scampered by in colorful animal masks, musicians jammed on a stage and vendors clamored for the attention of passersby. The inaugural Providence Sustainability Festival was held all day downtown, bringing together students and grandparents, activists and local business owners to teach and learn about environmentalism in the area.
The festival was designed to educate the Providence community about environmental living, said Bradley Hyson, executive director of the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living. The institute, which created and sponsored the festival, seeks to transform Rhode Island into a environmentally sustainable state.
The festival opened with an “earth-honoring ceremony” led by Chief Kenny Black Elk from the Cherokee tribe. The ceremony was meant to show the Native American perspective on living in harmony with the earth, according to the festival’s Web site.
Pitching their tents in the early morning and staying until evening, the festival’s vendors educated attendees about maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. The vendors showcased products such as environmentally friendly plumbing and landscaping services, pizza-making ovens and toxin-free cleaning products.
“For each festival (the Apeiron Institute) invites people who are somehow involved in sustainability issues in one way or another,” said Senior Lecturer of Classics Peter Scharf, who is also on the board of directors at the Apeiron Institute.
RiverzEdge Arts Project, a program for “educationally and economically disenfranchised youth,” according to its Web site, sold their T-shirts, made with eco-friendly ink and cloth.
The Apeiron Institute has held similar festivals at its Center for Sustainable Living in Coventry, for the last eight years, said Mark Kravatz, director of sustainable business development at Apeiron, but the Institute expanded to “the heart of the city” for an additional festival this year to attract a different crowd.
“The environment gets generalized to a certain demographic of the community,” Kravatz said. This festival targeted different citizens of the Ocean State than previous festivals through its music and location, he added.
Different bands played Cambodian, folk, rock and Latin music, drawing together several generations of the Providence community.
Community members could also participate in free workshops held throughout the city on creating a better public transportation system, cooking locally grown foods and supporting public water systems, to name a few. Yoga classes, bike rides, fire-twirling demonstrations and walking tours of the city were also scheduled during the day.
Brown student groups whose work related to the festival’s mission came to publicize their organizations. Project 20/20 — a program that employs Brown students to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs — manned a booth at the entrance of the festival.
The project received a lot of interest from Providence community members, said Nia Smith, a Providence resident who volunteers for the program. The group plans to install the new lightbulbs within the week, she said.
Andrew Posner MA’08 led a workshop called “Creating a Green Economy from the Bottom Up.” Posner co-founded and directs the Capital Good Fund, a non-profit, green microfinance lender run by Brown students.
Posner’s workshop discussed how the goal of “greening the economy” can be accomplished through community-level microfinance and credit loaning to green businesses that otherwise would not qualify for a loan.
Posner said he hoped his workshop would convey the importance of microfinance to the Providence community. “The people at the festival are going to be the typical environmental crowd. We want to convey to them that there are all these people that are there who want to be involved and can be engaged,” he said.
The Apeiron Institute’s planning for the free festival moved into “high gear” during the summer, Hyson said. The Institute hopes to host the Providence festival again next year, he added, but plans to discuss it in the coming weeks.
Many at the event said they hoped it would return in the future.
“The festival is excellent,” said Jane Sanderson, a resident of Portsmouth, who proudly displayed a bracelet and necklaces she bought from one of the vendors. “I’m glad there was something going on.”
“It’s great that Providence is taking an active stance in educating people and trying to be green,” said Heather Mowry of Lincoln, adding that she liked that the festival was held “in the middle” of the state and had entertainment.