RI Rambles: RI Foundation, Benny’s

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RI Rambles

The RI Foundation had its big annual shindig May 24, celebrating giving, its wide base of philanthropists and the good they do for the RI community. If you haven’t heard of the RI Foundation, it’s quietly grown over decades to be the largest foundation for donations and public support in the state. Over 750 people were in attendance to recognize award winners and to appreciate the work done by the foundation. And to eat the delicious culinary offerings afterward.

Winners included Delta Dental for their community dental care programs, Renée A. R. Evangelista , and the Care Transformation Collaborative of Rhode Island, which does tremendous behind the scenes work in facilitating health care, especially primary care, making it more efficient and affordable through use of data and common sense, and touching or enhancing the care of about 60% of Rhode Islanders.

The Foundation also discussed their “Together RI” program, which elicited feedback and opinions from over 1200 RI residents from all walks of life. The results aren’t final yet, but consensus about the issues most in need of repair identified the following top RI concerns (these are paraphrased by RI Rambles):

  • Education – Primary, and also University.
  • The size of the state – and the fact that we should be small, nimble and able to get stuff done, but seem to keep tripping over our own feet instead.
  • Open Spaces, their uses and the pollution thereof.
  • Housing – particularly affordable housing.
  • Transportation (and don’t ever get a true RI’er started talking about parking).

Two prevalent themes emerged from the quilt of short, inspiring speeches – that a long-term plan to enhance RI’s future was an important missing element in our state, which the Foundation can help bring to the table (RI Ramblers certainly agree that when you’re constantly running for election or reelection, long-term planning is tough and unrewarding). In his keynote address, Neil Steinberg quoted Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” Working together in larger and more cohesive networks was the other prevailing theme – the word together being used repeatedly, including six times in the last sentence of Mr. Steinberg’s speech.

Quick Stats:

  • RI Foundation Donations this Year: $38 Million
  • Total Capital in Endowment: $950 Million
  • Interest Earned on Endowment Last Year: 17%

AS220 also had its annual fundraising blast-off: [Image] Their All-Access campaign has reached $3.1 million of its $5 million goal. “But wait,” you say, “Aren’t artists supposed to be starving?” Well, that’s a discussion [argument – ed] for another day – but certainly they’re supposed to be safe and have access to the tools of their trades. The campaign for AS220 is for a large number of long-needed building upgrades that will make the various art resources accessible, to address wear and tear, to make spaces more multi-purpose, and to improve the building’s sustainability and energy consumption. AS220’s dedication to unjuried, uncensored art is one of the things that makes it special – to have physical elements that create exclusion is as un-AS220 as it gets. According to their records, 80,000 people set foot in an AS220 building last year – a number that makes a pretty good argument for giving them a good space for those feet, wheels or whatever else conveys them.

The evening’s celebration was a mix of inspiring talks and entertaining interludes. Anchored by a rabble-rousing speech by the always-entertaining Emeritus Bert Crenca, it included spoken work, a dance performance by AS220 youth’s Insert Name Here (that’s not a typo, it’s the name of their troop, although word is they’re still working on it), and looks into the DIY past and bootstrappable future of the organization by co-directors Shauna Duffy and Shey Rivera, as well as veteran Susan Clausen, who explained photos of the building’s original, homespun renovations, saying, “We were all in this together, bound by a shared sense of mission.” Anjel Newmann described the success of AS220 – and the importance of its downcity location – as “a bridge for youth across the city. Moving from the South side to downtown, we became visible.”  Lizzie Araujo told of her own joy and empowerment as a result of simply feeling and being included where she never expected to, a sentiment echoed by several speakers, including Board Chair Ken DeBlois and Poetry Slam Co-director Vatic Kuumba, who said he “Found my community and found my voice … [in a place where] people can give their art to the people who need it most.”

We’re pretty sure the most commonly used polysyllabic word of the evening was “audacious.”

Crenca wore the amazingly preserved, 35 year-old first T-Shirt made at AS220 and emphasized the importance of artists at the bottom of the arts pyramid and patrons at the top being drawn together to create a deliberate but still organic arts community. “We live in an environment that demands competition, but humans are natural collaborators,” he said, explaining that AS220 responds to this with what he called “compost theory.” “We don’t worry about the results, we just create a hot, fertile, smelly environment where anything is possible,” Crenca said.

Benny’s is Back:

No, not the beloved store of eclecticism … the surprise hit musical. Sorry, we probably could have phrased that headline better. Nevertheless, after a short run earlier this year where it sold out every show and warmed a tremendous number of hearts, the homegrown, eclectic musical is playing pop-up-theater whack-a-mole with new performances scattered about the local stagescape. This show is well worth catching, whether you’re a life-long Rhode Islander or just want to understand one a little better. Keep an eye on the internet or Motif’s listings to see where it will take place next.

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