Updated March 22 at 6:26pm

Five Questions With: Erin Donovan

Executive director of Ocean State Tall Ships talks about the festival, which runs July 6-9.

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Five Questions With: Erin Donovan


Erin Donovan has been executive director of Ocean State Tall Ships since its inception since July 2011 and has been organizing this summer’s tall ships visit ever since.

The Tall Ships are set to sail back into Rhode Island July 5 with the festival running July 6-9. This time – the last festival was held in 2007 – the entire event will take place on the Newport Waterfront from Newport Shipyard to Waite’s Wharf to encourage participation of local businesses.

PBN: What changes have you made to deal with tougher economic times than last faced the event in 2007?

DONOVAN: Fundraising is always a challenge regardless of the state of the economy but it is certainly a difficult time out there. What I can say is that our organization, Ocean State Tall Ships is a new non-profit starting from scratch to pull off this huge event and to make it a regularly scheduled local festival taking place every three years. We’ve added a vendor marketplace that provides services and entertainment but also pays for itself. We’re charging for boarding passes so visitors can embark on the ships which will help pay for their appearance fees, and we’re charging for parking in the satellite areas to pay for the shuttling and public safety. It’s important to acknowledge that the majority of our funding goes to getting the ships here, education, transportation and public safety.

PBN: How do you see the event as an economic mover for the state or RI?

DONOVAN: The maritime industry and tourism are very important to the state of Rhode Island. Combining these two major aspects of our economy is an intelligent way to promote the state. Our event will take place along the waterfront in downtown Newport. It involves and benefits local business by having increased foot traffic just outside their stores and restaurants. We estimate 50,000 people per day will visit the ships [and] local businesses can use this as an opportunity to showcase what they do best so visitors will have a reason to come back. We are showcasing Newport.

PBN: You are asking local PTAs and PTOs to partner in ticket sales by offering such organizations that sell 100 tickets a 25-percent return donation. What was the motivation behind this?

DONOVAN: We recognized this as a State event and we wanted to involve many communities throughout the state. We are using this as a platform to get into schools and to involve parents, teachers and students in the event

[and we] saw this as an opportunity to help the children and students we are trying to reach by offering a joint fundraising opportunity to all schools in the hopes of helping them offset some of their own obstacles to fundraising efforts.

PBN: How long does this event take to plan?

DONOVAN: We’ll have about a year, which is intense. This being our first year, we’re fortunate to have help and advice from local organizations who want this to succeed. We are laying a foundation for the next festival scheduled for 2015 and will be able to have much more time for planning that one.

PBN: What else can we look forward to seeing OSTS doing in between festivals?

DONOVAN: In August, the Eagle (a tall ship) will be coming to Newport and we’ll assist the Coast Guard with the visit by sharing information that we’ve gathered and learned. We hope to have a role whenever there is a tall ship headed to Newport either as an ambassador, a greeter or as an organization that can simply ease the way for the captain and crew. After the festival we will also evaluate other sail training and educational programs in which we can participate. The maritime industry is part of Rhode Island’s rich cultural history. We’re here to promote and support it any way we can.


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