Art Lesson: Experts discuss access to the arts in RI

The h-art-est part is starting
The h-art-est part is starting

Rhode Island has a vast and storied history as a creative mecca and artist hub, dating back to at least Native American times, running full speed through colonial days and early statehood, and once again reinventing itself in the modern era and heading into the future.  

However, with the arts trending as a secondary priority in many aspects of education, and in society in general, I checked in with three key elements of the creator infrastructure in Rhode Island for a look at where the arts are today as a broad institution in the Ocean State.

In a recent episode of The Bartholomewtown Podcast, I sat down for a wide-ranging conversation with AS220 executive director Shauna Duffy, The Columbus Theatre’s Shawn Schilberg and The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts executive director Randy Rosenbaum. Below is a portion of our discussion, in which we explored the differences between curated and unjuried spaces in RI and how such spaces complement each other in serving the greater community:


Shauna Duffy (AS220): We try to not be a gatekeeper by explicitly saying that AS220 is unjuried and is uncensored and that anyone can perform here. Anyone can show here. It’s open to anybody and people really rise to the challenge. If you give people space and opportunity and tools, that’s all they need.

That’s really important to us at AS220, [the concept] that all people have creative potential, and people who are not used to accessing things will continue to not access them.

People have said to us, from other organizations, whether it’s the Dirt Palace or Everett or other organizations, that they can do what they do because AS220 exists. There’s always something there that’s for everybody. That’s really important to us.

Randy Rosenbaum (RISCA):  It’s really interesting and good programming on your part to have these two individuals here talking about this because it’s two sides of the same coin. And that coin is critical to the cultural vitality of our state. You’ve got a curated space, a space that makes decisions on who to bring in and who to present in their space for the benefit of the wider cultural community, the wider community, cultural or not [in The Columbus Theatre]. And then you’ve got a space where people can go and explore and it’s sort of research and development, with AS220. Both of those things are absolutely critical for a vital cultural community.

Bill Bartholomew (Motif): I appreciate that. And I completely agree that you have to be able to take a chance, at any age. You can sort of begin the exploration process at AS220.

RR: It’s important for us to connect to the broader community and, to take a belief out of Shauna’s book, access is key. We’re [RISCA] a government agency. We use taxpayer dollars to support the arts in our state. That can’t just be segmented into orchestras in ballet companies and the like; we have to look at the broad range of community needs and community wants. We need to look at all the artists in the artist community in our state and all of the organizations that represent culture in Rhode Island and say we’re not segmenting our support for just this kind that would only appeal to white upper-class individuals, but we have a responsibility to the entire state at large.

BB: Shawn, what kind of role do you have in lobbying on behalf of the arts?

Shawn Schillberg (Columbus Theatre): I think the closest we’ll come to it is direct support for the scene. We will provide space whenever we can. Girls Rock has been there several times, you know, there’s a worthy cause, and we’ll be there to open up and provide the room.

To hear the complete RI Arts roundtable episode of The Bartholomewtown Podcast, listen on your favorite app, visit or