This past weekend, the City of Providence hosted PVDFest in collaboration with the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism and FirstWorks, a non-profit organization. The festival had performers, vendors and other events across three days at the 195 District Park.
According to Gregory Waksmulski, the festival volunteer coordinator, PVDFest is “the city’s premier arts festival that brings together performing artists, teaching artists and art activists from the local area.”
Previously held in downtown Providence, the festival moved to 195 District Park this year, which allowed the festival team to engage with more artists, particularly those in the Jewelry District who had not participated in previous years.
“Not only was it already a big beast, but now this year we’re now playing with other organizations and groups,” Waksmulski said. Nonetheless, “it’s a chance to exercise those muscles of coalition building and cooperation.”
Representation and diversity in art
The “I-195 (highway) cut the city into several pieces and actually split historically Black, Indigenous and people of color neighborhoods,” Waksmulski said. He hopes that PVDFest can serve as a “transformative moment” for community members and downtown businesses to “rebridge the neighborhoods with the downtown area.”
Waksmulski said that PVDFest organizers worked with Haus of Codec — an organization that provides “a safe housing space” for youth and connects with queer and BIPOC artists through its art markets — to encourage vendors from historically underprivileged backgrounds to participate.
Haus of Codec Operations Director Gem Marley said that the organization got involved with PVDFest after its founder Julio E. Berroa served as the parade manager for the festival.
According to Marley, Haus of Codec started hosting art markets in 2021 to connect with underrepresented artists while finding support to open emergency shelters and transitional housing for people between the ages of 18 and 24.
B McCray, owner of the small jewelry business BwitchedByB, was a vendor at PVDFest and got involved through Haus of Codec. They had been at multiple Haus of Codec events before and thought the event would be a good way to reach out to more of the community.
Kristen Angelo, owner of ceramic shop Rainbow Home Studios, spent this year’s PVDFest as a vendor — a change from her previous participation in the festival as a clarinetist for street band Extraordinary Rendition. Angelo said that she wanted to engage with the Providence community and its unique culture.
Connecting after a pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, PVDFest adapted to a virtual gathering which Waksmulski said did not quite foster the same feeling of connectedness. Last year, PVDFest made its physical return.
Shan Adria, a BwitchedByB employee, mentioned that PVDFest “started as a giant block party for all of the city’s locals … to get together and have a party during the summer.” But with increased safety and public health restrictions following the pandemic, the festival has not felt the same.
Angelo added that moving the location of PVDFest contributed to some of the disconnect community members felt post-pandemic. “Anytime you’re moving (an event) to the East Side … it’s going to make (attending) more accessible and easier to one certain demographic” while being more inaccessible for other residents.
The location change is one of a set of controversial changes to PVDFest that Mayor Brett Smiley announced in June, along with banning open containers of alcohol and allowing block parties on only one of the three nights.
Nonetheless, Waksmulski believes this year’s PVDFest was still well-attended. “People were hungry for it again,” he said. “The hunger persists even when we move the location slightly, and even when it’s thunderstorming, our headliners both nights have packed the park.”
Hopes for the future
Marley said they hope vendors at PVDFest “get the exposure that they need to be able to support themselves through their craft… (and) that people come and appreciate the work that they do.”
McCray hopes that the unique style and personality of each performer, vendor and their items encourages more event go-ers to fully express themselves. “PVDFest is genuinely just about partying with everybody … and Providence is nothing but a bunch of unique people,” they said.
“It’s just an amazing chance to see performers from all over,” Angelo said. In the future, she hopes PVDFest becomes “a more centralized opportunity to see diverse acts and culture in one space.”
Waksmulski hopes the event continues to transform Providence “into a giant stage where we can all entertain each other and bring joy to the community” and carries on its title of “the community’s festival.”