Updated March 24 at 6:27pm
creative economy

WaterFire looks to region for help designing sustainable future


PROVIDENCE – WaterFire Providence is asking its supporters for help in an “unusual” way. The nonprofit organization was recently named one of 14 semifinalists in the ArtsFwd 2013 Business Unusual National Challenge, and it’s looking for online votes to help it come out on top.

The Business Unusual National Challenge is an initiative of ArtsFwd, which centers on “next practices” for arts leaders. Through the challenge, ArtsFwd hopes to “crowdsource bright minds in and outside the arts sector to tackle the most significant challenges facing organizations today.” The organization is interested specifically in contributing to what it calls adaptive challenges, or those with “no obvious solution, no set procedures and no recognized experts.”

In WaterFire’s case, the challenge revolves around developing a new business model that gets more of WaterFire’s beneficiaries to contribute, so that it can continue to create cultural and economic impacts for the community and inspire its visitors.

WaterFire’s goals include:

  • Overcoming the public good/free rider effect that threatens its sustainability

  • Developing a business model that has new, diversified revenue streams captured from the value WaterFire creates for a wide range of beneficiaries, many of whom can afford to reinvest at appropriate levels in the artwork

  • Producing more public art events that add vibrancy and economic impact to the community

According to a press release, “WaterFire is an admission-free event that has very real costs to produce. And while nearly everyone loves it, a incredibly small percentage actually support it. We need to work together to figure out a way to increase those numbers or long-term sustainability will be challenging.”

If the organization wins the Business Unusual Challenge, it would receive a package of grants and resources worth $35,000 to prototype an approach to its challenge.

In order to advance to the final round, WaterFire needs the public to cast online votes in its favor. The organization is asking that supporters vote daily online through Friday, May 31.

To help voters remember, WaterFire is offering to send daily reminder emails that contain a link to the voting page. Those who sign up for the emails will also be entered to win the opportunity to participate in lighting WaterFire with a guest, a Brazier Society experience for two, or a framed photo of WaterFire signed by WaterFire creator and artistic director Barnaby Evans.

The winner will be announced in the fall.

Those interested can cast votes at artsfwd.org/challenge-wfp.


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