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WaterFire Providence® , the award-winning sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence, has been praised by Rhode Island residents and international visitors alike as a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence’s renaissance. WaterFire’s sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from across the world all engage the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths and bridges of Waterplace Park. WaterFire has captured the imagination of many thousands of people, bringing life to downtown, and continues to revitalize Rhode Island’s capital city.
Cited by the Providence Journal in 1997 as "the most popular work of art created in the capital city’s -year history" WaterFire continues to grow and gain in popularity. Barnaby Evans created First Fire in 1994 as a commission to celebrate the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence. In June 1996, Evans created Second Fire for the International Sculpture Conference where it became the gathering place for thousands of participants from all over the world. Ardent art supporters convinced Evans to create an on-going fire installation and started a grass-roots effort to establish WaterFire as a non-profit arts organization. With the support of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, generous donations from many individuals, contributions from corporate leaders and support from the City and State, WaterFire’s flickering flames now regularly return to illuminate downtown Providence.
In 1997, WaterFire Providence expanded to 42 braziers, and attracted an estimated attendance of 350,000 people during thirteen lightings. Evans received the Renaissance Award from the City of Providence for his work as an artist and his role in revitalizing downtown Providence.
In response to growing attendance, WaterFire expanded in size to 81 braziers in 1998; and 97 braziers in 1999. The 1999 season culminated in a special WaterFire lighting for the December 31 millennium celebrations. WaterFire’s 2000 season was our biggest so far — more than thirty sponsors helped host 25 lightings during a season that ran from March to October.
Hundreds of volunteers have devoted many thousands of hours to create WaterFire for the enjoyment of the public. The broad support for WaterFire Providence and its power to attract millions of visitors are eloquent testimony to the power of public art and to its capacity to restore our urban and social landscape.