Open Door Decor

Open Door Health, an inclusive healthcare facility in PVD, in collaboration with The Avenue Concept, recently unveiled a new mural. The mural, created by renowned queer artist Brian Kenny, features his signature line drawing style. The interconnected line drawings incorporate LGBTQ+ iconography and plants native to Rhode Island, depicted in the colors that appear on the trans flag. See more of Kenny’s work @briankenny and read our profile of Open Door Health at motifri.com/opendoorhealth.

Plein Air Pawtucket

Plein Air Pawtucket is the centerpiece of the Pawtucket Arts Festival. During the weekend of September 10, 12 artists will set up their canvases along a 1.25-mile walking tour that takes visitors to the Pawtucket Falls, Slater Mill, the library, the armory and along the Blackstone River.

According to Plein Air Pawtucket founder Nick Paciorek, the beauty of the event is that it allows visitors a different view of a piece of art and of a landscape. “Pawtucket offers such a rich source of inspiration for painters, and this event offers a chance for people to enjoy the outdoors, watch the artists work and see the city through the lens of the artist.”

Work done in plein air is particularly interesting because it allows an artist to incorporate color, movement and ever-changing natural light into their work. Passersby who fall in love with a particular piece may purchase it at the Pawtucket-based Pitcher-Goff House Gallery and Studio, a gorgeous venue worthy of a visit. The works created during the Plein Air Pawtucket event will become the inaugural paintings of the Pawtucket Collection, an ongoing collection of art that captures the spirit of Pawtucket.

The Pitcher-Goff House Gallery and Studio is located at 99 Broadway, Pawtucket. fb.com/NickPaciorekStudio

Providence Art Revolt: A summer celebration of art, music and community

On July 24, from 3pm until midnight, Providence Art Revolt will take over Revival Brewing in PVD.

The idea for Art Revolt came from the three co-hosts of the local podcast Providence Leftist Radio. It’s a political podcast that never hosts politicians. Rather it hosts local mutual aid organizations in hopes of helping them connect to like-minded listeners. The Providence Leftist Radio hosts wondered if they could bring this type of connection into the art world.

“We wanted to host an event where people could get together and appreciate the art that’s coming out of our community,” said Art Revolt organizer and Providence Leftist Radio co-host Alex Herbert. “People buy art for their walls all the time, but my question is: If you really want to support your community, why not display a piece from a local artist?”

Art Revolt will allow people to do just that. Ten local artists will have their work displayed and available for purchase at the event. In addition to the artists displaying their work, there will be vendor tables and food trucks, and bands will play all afternoon into the night. “The point of Art Revolt is to celebrate art from the community, and the vendors, musicians, even the food is a type of local art,” said Herbert.

Will this become an annual event? “We’ll see how Saturday goes,” said Herbert. “The enthusiasm has been really cool. The vendors, musicians, sponsors and artists are really excited. And as long as the community-funded and community-oriented aspect of it remains, I don’t see why we couldn’t do this year after year.”

Art Revolt takes starts at 3pm at Revival Brewery, 50 Sims Ave, PVD. Gallery artists include Derek Raymond, Vickie Smalls, Still Hear, Dsfcult Dopesicksf, Doodle in Your Head, Marius Marjolin, Hell Dweller, Gostgod, Anobelist and Wormo. Performing musicians include Dirty Mushrooms (in their first ever performance!), Baby Baby, Burr, Darklands, Bochek, DJ For All Masters, John Prince, Von the General and Satin Suede. For more info, go to fb.com/plrpod or @plrpod.

Breaking the Rules: Artist Tate Won Chen learned the rules just to break them

Tate Won Chen was introduced to art through calligraphic Chinese painting. “In the practice of Chinese ink painting,” she explains, “there are right and wrong ways to do things. There are materials to prepare. There are ways to hold your brush and posture. There are ways to think about open fields balanced by tighter weights and how you place them. It gets to be very lyrical and poetic, and that’s been my foundation.”

Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” As Tate describes the way her art has evolved, it seems she’s taken that advice to heart. “I love being aggressive with a pencil and dancing around a page — not holding it too tight or letting myself get too close so I can let something happen and let it be scrawl. I love organic shapes where there’s no right or wrong. I love plants. I love figure drawing. A lot of it really is about keeping your own heart alive and hopefully being able to have that resonate in someone else’s soul.”

Though Tate identifies as a painter, she pursues a lot of different crafts. “Everything I do goes under this umbrella in my brain as fine arts,” she says. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, she’s been putting all her free time into mask making because LifeSpan contacted her with a pattern and asked her to help. “Sewing can be empowering right now and a way to make small contributions to a community that seems disconnected. When we’re full of fear, that’s a way to keep my hands busy.” 

She also crafts small-scale mobiles that are made out of mostly found objects. “Bits of metal and shells, glass, coins, ends of shoelaces. Bits and bobbles. They’re arranged like you’d balance a mobile,” she says. “They’re formal studies meant to be suspended thoughts. Like being suspended in time. I’ve been thinking about them as dreamscapes.” 

She’s momentarily distracted from our interview by her pet pigeon, Hermes, who flies free in her room. “She had a broken leg as a fledgling, and now she’s 9. She’s been the most intelligent and loyal and social animal I’ve ever had. She’s just living her little life on my pile of scarves.” 

In describing her pigeon, Tate expresses reverence for the natural world. “We can talk in scientific terms to explain nature, but when you see a rainbow, you’re just struck by raw awe.” That, she says, is a philosophy she shares with The Reliquarium, a live/work art collective with which she’s been involved for four years. She’s currently working with them on a massive project in Lincoln, called TimeZone. They’re building a multiroom game experience in which participants will have to face challenges in order to move through the game and earn points. It soon will be unveiled at R1 Indoor Karting.    

“What’s neat about The Reliquarium is a desire to re-enchant the world. The collective and I both come from more organized places, but we try to find that whimsy in the cracks of the sidewalk. We started off with that same song in our heart of the awe of nature and the natural world,” she says.  

She speaks with excitement about the great communal push she experiences through her work with The Reliquarium. “Everyone has their own little specialty, so there’s always someone who can tackle that thing. A certain part of me feels empowered by working in a collective because of that trust. A mixture of introverted creativity and extroverted participation really gets the sparks going.” 

Island Moving Company Returns to Live Performance

On May 6, 7 and 8, Island Moving Company (IMC) will hold a hybrid in-person and livestreamed performance called Return to Live at the WaterFire Arts Center.

The performance will feature world premieres from guest choreographer Colin Connor, former artistic director of the José Limón Dance Company, and Danielle Genest, IMC’s associate artistic director. The performance will also include Mark Harootian’s recent work, Steady Grip, plus Ruth…Less, and A Life Well Lived by Miki Ohlsen, IMC’s artistic director. All performances will be accompanied by live music arranged by music director and cellist Adrienne Taylor, with pianist Andrei Bauman and violinist Emma Lee Holmes-Hicks.

Ohlsen, who curated the performance with Genest, said of the upcoming collection of pieces, “It furthers IMC’s commitment to artistic collaboration and providing audiences with the rare opportunity to engage with two live art forms in a singular production.”

Return to Live takes place May 6 – 8 at the WaterFire Arts Center. 475 Valley St, PVD. For more information, go to islandmovingco.org

Revolution Solution: Fashion Revolution PVD fights fast fashion culture

Before you ditch your skinny jeans for a pair of wide leg jeans that you’ll be tossing for next year’s trend, consider the impact. The fast fashion industry thrives on consumers salivating over the latest looks that make it from runways to closets with lightning fast speed, only to languish in landfills when the trends inevitably change in a season. These clothes are more or less designed to be disposable — they’re made out of cheap materials and poorly constructed, and their environmental impact is huge. The clothing manufacturing industry uses trillions of liters of water each year. Cheap dyes in wastewater pollute our water, then consumers pollute it further by tossing their synthetic clothing into a washing machine, allowing tiny plastic fibers to find their way into waterways.

There’s also a human cost to fast fashion. In order to produce clothing quickly and inexpensively, factory workers often are overworked and underpaid, forced to work in unsafe conditions. In April 2013, Raza Plaza, a shoddily constructed eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed five garment factories, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring more than 2,500. This tragedy was the impetus for Fashion Revolution Week, which takes place in April to honor the Raza Plaza victims.

Fashion Revolution Week is an international event that fights back against fast fashion by supporting a more ethically sourced and sustainable fashion industry. Cities around the world participate, and this year, Betha Wood is the city lead for Providence. I recently spoke with her about her passion for the project.

Emily Olson (Motif): How did contributing to a more sustainable fashion industry become a passion for you?

Betha Wood: I’m one of the founding members of Style Week, which is one of the local fashion weeks in Providence. I was the director of hair for 10-plus years, and through that experience, I got lots of work backstage at NY Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. I’ve been all over the world in fashion, and I’ve been abused by the top people in the industry. I learned a lot from those negative experiences because it showed me that I want to change the culture backstage. It’s interesting that this organization [Fashion Revolution] was founded because of the mistreatment of people in factories. but it really relates to every avenue in the industry — people in retail, the models, the agents. It’s culturally nasty a lot of the time and it doesn’t have to be. Maybe if we can make fashion kind we can make kindness fashionable.

EO: Clothing that is sustainably and ethically produced and made out of natural fibers can be prohibitively expensive. What would you suggest to someone who wants an ethical wardrobe, but can’t afford one?

BW: Focus on recycled clothing or build a relationship with a local designer to rework the things you’ve always had that you love. It might be expensive, but then you’re making your loved clothes last. And we need to educate ourselves. Most people don’t know the fashion industry is the most pollutive in the world.

EO: What is Fashion Revolution Providence doing to combat fast fashion?

BW: I created a map that highlights as many Providence-based vintage and resale shops, as well as tailors and cobblers, that I could find. I’m also making mini films that tell the stories of the people who are in the industry or impacted by it. 

Rhode Island is the birthplace of the industrial revolution. We had the first cotton mill in the US. We have some of the oldest polluted waters in the country, and today, Pawtucket has some of the cleanest waters. Let’s celebrate our rich textile history, pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve accomplished, look at our next steps and share what we’ve learned with the communities behind us.

Fashion Revolution Week takes place April 19 – 25, with a film screening to take place on April 25. Find details on the film screening as they become available at fb.com/FashionRevolutionPVD or @FashionRevolution_PVD. Designers, tailors, makers and cobblers who want to participate next year should contact fashionrevolution.pvd@gmail.com. Motif partnered with Fashion Revolution to create its map and films.

Dearest You

Dear Rhode Island is a community-led project that sprung from the brilliant minds of What Cheer Writers Club during the pandemic. It invites people to be pen pals and build connections during social distancing through the power of letters.

This spring, the project is partnering with Care New EnglandProspect CharterCARE and Thundermist Health Center and asking would-be letter writers to send thank you notes to healthcare workers on the front lines of the health crisis who have worked so tirelessly over the past year.

If you’d like to sign up to send letters of gratitude and support to healthcare workers, go to dearRI.com by March 20 to be matched with a hospital or healthcare facility. Letters must be mailed by April 15.

A Bouquet of Cheer

What Cheer Flower Farm is a nonprofit with the mission to grow, rescue and donate flowers and flower bouquets to underserved people dealing with stressful situations. Its 2.7 acres are located on a former factory site in Providence. The organization has remediated 18,000 square feet of polluted soil and turned it into organic flower fields, with plans for further expansion.

Early spring is busy season for the farm, but What Cheer’s farmer, Krystal Kraczkowski, took some time out of her planning to talk to me about what’s blooming this season.

Emily Olson (Motif): What’s going on at the farm?

Krystal Kraczkowski: Right now, I’m doing a lot of planning and researching new crops I want to grow. We are also planning a whole new growing space. Right now it’s a flat area of asphalt, but we’re working with Ground Works, an organization that gives job opportunities to individuals who might be able to otherwise get a job, to rip out the asphalt, add gravel and make raised beds that are handicap accessible.

The new area is going to be about 5,000 square feet and it will double our growing area. It’s on the corner of Agnes and Magnolia, so you’ll be able to drive by and see that we’re growing flowers instead of just factories.

EO: What types of flowers do you grow?

KK: I grow flowers have the longest vase life and are easiest to grow. So we grow a whole bunch of a few things. I also grow fillers and greens to bulk up what gets donated to us.

EO: Who receives your donated bouquets?

KK: We only give away to other nonprofits, and we have changed up a little bit who we’ve been donating to in the pandemic. We can’t give flowers to patients in hospitals, but we give to the food bank and the hospitals themselves. And we give to the workers in hospitals. 

EO: When people are in life-threatening situations, dealing with health issues or food insecurity, why are flowers important?

KK: I used to work at the farmers market for Robin Hollow Farm and saw the flowers go from seed to centerpiece. My favorite time of the week was going to the market and bringing flowers to people because they would thank me for bringing joy to their lives and for all my hard work for making their day a little brighter. Flowers help you feed your soul, and that makes a huge difference in someone’s life.  

EO: As a flower farmer, what advice would you give someone who has a little patch of earth and wants to grow their own?

KK: Plant as many as you can. Even if it looks like the worst place for a flower. Remember what they said in Jurassic Park: Life finds a way. It’s so incredible to see that life can find its way in every situation. It’s a reminder to do the same thing in your life. 

To volunteer, donate flowers or inquire about bouquets, visit whatcheerfarm.org  

The Wait of the World

I’ve been riveted by the breathtaking images coming from the Mars rover Perseverance. And the timing of these images is interesting because perseverance takes up a lot of my mental space these days. Probably because we’re all doing so much of it. We’ve endured a long winter. We’ve endured a longer pandemic. And now shoots and shots are on the horizon. But they’re not here yet. 

We must persevere even as time drags out interminably and remind ourselves that although putting one foot in front of the other often feels more like surviving than thriving, it’s still forward motion. 

And perhaps there are lessons we can take from that robotic creature so far from home. We can remember that patience and Ingenuity reap rewards. Search for evidence of life under the scorched crust of our psyche. And embrace beauty where we find it, even if it feels light-years away. 

What Lies Beneath: Better environmental health starts in your own backyard

Loren Byrne is a professor of biology and environmental science at Roger Williams University, and he digs dirt. His expertise is in the ways in which urbanization affects soil health, particularly when it comes to lawn and garden management. He argues that the manicured, pesticide-laden monoculture that is a typical lawn negatively impacts soil health. Instead, he advocates for freedom lawns: a pesticide-free biodiverse lawn that allows soil organisms to thrive. As people gear up to re-enter the great outdoors, Byrne and I sat down to talk about the stuff under our feet.

Emily Olson (Motif): Why is soil health important?

Loren Byrne: Soil health is fundamental to human health. We live above the soil, but in some regards, we are creatures from the soil inasmuch as it’s the soil that provides the foundation for our food. There’s plenty of research that shows that living in a green, biodiverse environment promotes human psychological health, and we’re getting to the point where we’re starting to make some conclusions about the value of urban biodiversity affecting our physical health as well.

EO: What can someone do to improve the health of their soil?

LB: I’ll start with organic matter. One of the important ingredients in a good soil is organic matter — detritus — the scientific word for dead stuff. That could be leaves, grass clippings, cow manure, compost and all of the dead soil organisms, bacteria, fungi that eventually die and contribute to the organic matter in the soil. This organic matter holds onto water and keep the soil moist. It’s the organic matter that provides the nutrition for plants and the food for the soil food web, especially microbes. The decomposition of organic matter in the soil is important for the circle of life. Dead things go into the soil and get decomposed and their nutrients can get taken back up by plants.

The challenge in urbanized environments is that people want to manage it so intensively that they disrupt those natural processes. So for example, leaf blowers and bagging your grass clippings are removing valuable food and organic matter from the system. A simple practice for people to do in their yards is leave the leaves where possible. They provide a home and insulation for the organisms and soil beneath. Then, as they decompose as the weather warms up, there are nutrients released.

EO: It sounds like you’re saying lazy lawn management is a good thing.

LB: Instead of calling it lazy, let’s call it stewardship. It’s care for the environment. I’m doing something good by leaving the leaves and returning my grass clippings into the lawn. In the spring, stop and think about the beauty of detritus. It’s not trash to be thrown away. And then, the challenge is convincing ourselves and our neighbors of that premise. So much of the urban landscape is about social dynamics and pressure from neighbors to maintain this “perfect” standard. We need to change our lenses and our worldview to see what was once considered beautiful as actually ugly because it’s doing real harm for health of the soil and the future of our urban places. 

EO: How do you shift a manicured lawn into a more biodiverse one?

LB: It’s helpful to envision a gradient of environments. The highly watered, managed and manicured one length, one color industrial lawn is the antithesis of life. Let it get a little wilder. Reduce fertilizer and pesticide application first. Then reduce irrigation. Then if you’re willing to go more, let it grow taller and mow less. Then, rip up part of the lawn and replace it with wildflowers, shrubs, bird-friendly trees, bee-friendly flowers, hummingbird-friendly stuff. That will reduce your carbon footprint because you’re not mowing, and you’re providing a better habitat for a diversity of organisms. The next step is to let those gardens go wild. Let things go to seed. You’ll get beautiful seedlings coming up year after year. New things coming in. A profusion of textures. And if you let it get wild enough, you have prairie. And when you have an environment like that, there’s more detritus accumulating. That’s when the soil biodiversity comes in with the spiders and beetles and nematodes that are small and important. Then let it go back to the native biome. For our area, it would be trees, a pond. You’d create a habitat for snakes and owls and other things. And that’s where you get into hardcore wildlife gardening.

EO: It sounds idyllic.

LB: It is. There are real health benefits to humans in gardening and creating green space. People find joy in watching birds. In order to have the birds, you need the habitat. And a lot of these birds eat the organisms in the soil. We have to connect the soil to what happens above ground.