Updated March 23 at 12:28am

Five Questions With: Barnaby Evans

Executive artistic director at Waterfire Providence talks about attendance and future plans for the nearly 20-year-old-event.

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Five Questions With: Barnaby Evans


Barnaby Evans, executive artistic director at WaterFire Providence, has been helping to light up the city's cultural scene since 1994 when he installed the first fire to celebrate the 10th anniversary of First Night Providence.

Since then, the city's summer entertainment staple has grown to attract an average of 40,000 attendees per lighting. Each event needs around 160 volunteers to go off.

PBN: How has attendance this year compared to previous years? What can you attribute that to?

EVANS: Our attendance has been huge. As busy as ever. Our event is free, so it is a huge help to families and others allowing them to celebrate while still brining millions of dollars into our state.

PBN: Has a winter Waterfire ever been considered?

EVANS: Yes, we have often done winter lightings. Our very first lighting was on New Year’s Eve in a light snow in 1994. I have always wanted to schedule WaterFire for the night of the first snowfall, but logistically it is a little tough to pull this off! We are hoping to add a lighting for this December.

PBN: What has been the biggest challenge in fundraising in recent years?

EVANS: Our event is entirely presented for free, yet costs always rise. The number of things we are creating and offering keeps increasing. We need to help people understand how much work and expense go into making WaterFire such a success each night. Our mission is to inspire the state of Rhode Island. Our hope is that everyone who comes will join us by making a contribution of their own.

PBN: What is the biggest way the event and organization has grown since it began?

EVANS: WE have begun embracing our civic role in many more ways. WE welcome new visitors to the city and honor those who have such great contributions to our community as with our Memorial Observance we are offering on Sept. 15 to the late great Iona Dobbins, the first executive director of the R.I. State Council on the Arts. We are also looking at our long-term future.

PBN: What do you, as an artist, most love about the Providence arts community?

EVANS: I love Providence’s arts community – its wild spirit, its boundless curiosity, its amazing creativity. There is so much going on here it is simply mind boggling! The arts and design community in Rhode Island is growing stronger every day and is a source of tremendous growth, vision and economic vitality. Rhode Island has always been a place that has valued design and the arts. As we grow, so does the state!


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