PROVIDENCE – Since artist multimedia Barnaby Evans lit the first flames as part of First Night Providence in 1994, WaterFire has grown into an annual tradition in Rhode Island that attracts some 40,000 to each event.
On dates from May through November, 86 burning braziers light up the rivers of downtown Providence creating a unique experience for visitors, thanks to the work of some 160 volunteers from across the state and beyond.
In fact, according to a release from the non-profit arts organization this week, WaterFire boasts volunteers hailing from 35 out of Rhode Island’s 39 towns, as well as dedicated individuals from neighboring states, including Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
Only four Rhode Island communities lack representation, and three of those towns – Charlestown, New Shoreham and Richmond – have populations of less than 10,000 people. The fourth municipality absent representation in the volunteer lineup is North Smithfield.
The organization hopes to change that with a new campaign aimed at connecting communities across the state through the power of volunteerism dubbed A Light In Every Town.
“The community spirit imbued in the production of each WaterFire lighting and all of our programming at the WaterFire Arts Center is a testament to Rhode Island’s unity, with volunteers and supporters representing every corner of our state,” said Director and coCEO of WaterFire Providence Peter Mello in a notice on the effort.
It’s a fitting sentiment for an event that’s drawn thousands of visitors to the state over the past 25 years. The free public art installation has been interpreted, in part, to symbolize reflection on the recognition that individuals must act together to strengthen and preserve their community.
And it seems individuals from other northern Rhode Island towns are doing their part. Barb Hudson of Burrillville currently serves on the WaterFire build crew that constructs the braziers for each event, and Mark Marino of Glocester serves as a captain on one of the many boats used to maintain the fires throughout the evening.
The roles are among many volunteer opportunities that also include jobs at the WaterFire Arts Center, a 37,000-square-foot venue that also serves as home to the organization. Mello notes that volunteering with WaterFire is flexible and rewarding, with all ages welcome and opportunities both during the week and at lightings. Volunteers serve as gallery docents, participate in woodpile workouts and engage with visitors from around the globe.
“Our diverse volunteer team demonstrates that WaterFire truly belongs to all Rhode Islanders, fostering a sense of togetherness,” said Mello. “Together, we illuminate the spirit of our state, inviting everyone to be a part of this unique experience.”
To become part of the experience and represent your town, sign up at volunteer.waterfire.org.
“By joining, you’ll not only contribute to the legacy of an iconic Rhode Island tradition but also forge deeper connections within your community,” noted a call out for volunteers.
There are currently two full WaterFire lightings left in the 2023 season; Saturday, Oct. 14, and Saturday, Nov. 4.