Racing Through Pawtucket In Style: The Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival returns for the 20th year

Soon, 12 Taiwanese-style dragon boats will be speeding through Pawtucket’s Festival Pier. For this can’t-be-missed event, racers will operate artfully crafted Taiwanese-style fiberglass boats gifted from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and will vie for the cash prizes. Attendees can watch the fun from the sidelines and munch on food from local vendors and food trucks, or can even participate themselves in the amateur and corporate division, for those looking for team bonding and business promotion. 

The Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day Festival, which will be returning on September 7 and is now in its 20th year, is an unparalleled opportunity to enjoy dragon boat races and cultural performances, and even gorge on savory dumplings in a dumpling eating contest. Brought to you by the annual Pawtucket Arts Festival, Taiwan Day is fun for the whole family and a terrific occasion to celebrate the rich arts and cultural communities in Pawtucket. For Anthony Ambrosino, the festival director, “One of the most exciting aspects of this job is giving a platform and a voice to Pawtucket artists and Pawtucket communities.”  

At the event, food appears to be a gateway to culture and tradition. Attendees can participate in the famed dumpling contest, where the male and female winner will each receive a ticket to Taiwan, thanks to China Airlines and EVA Air. But there will also be a beer garden, on behalf of Narragansett Beer, yo-yo performances, lion dancers, boat cruises through the Blackstone River Valley Historical Park via The Explorer, interactive performances and more. 

The Rhode Island Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day Festival on September 7. For info, go to dragonboatri.com  

Make Way for the Highway

Thanks to Interstate 95, travelers can drive all the way from Miami to New Brunswick without ever needing to leave the highway. Artists from Jimmy Buffet to the Front Bottoms have struck a chord singing about it, but a project from the Preservation Society of Pawtucket hopes to shed light on another, less-discussed aspect of the highway: The voices of those who were displaced in its construction. The Preservation Society has just launched a powerful initiative, The I-95 Oral History Project, which will curate stories from Pawtucket residents who remember how the highway’s construction made a lasting impact on the character and culture of Pawtucket.

In 1954, the community, particularly local business owners, were engaged in fierce debate about the possibility of a multi-lane highway being built in downtown Pawtucket. Many were worried that I-95 would detract from local businesses, weaken the economy and displace residents from their homes. That year, then-mayor Lawrence A. McCarthy persuaded the city council to approve a plan to establish a bridge over Division Street. Victorious, he declared, “We are going from an old-fashioned New England city into a modern, up-to-date community, accessible and convenient for business and industry.” According to the Preservation Society, upward of 1,000 residents were displaced and 300 businesses demolished in order to allow I-95 into the city.

Preservation Society member Jocelyn Dube says that hearing about how vibrant Downtown Pawtucket once was — how people would spill from the sidewalks because there was so much activity — was one of the main reasons why she felt so strongly about the project. Jocelyn, whose interest in preservation “leans more toward the people than the structure,” envisions the Oral History Project as eventually culminating in a panel of sorts, where the residents will speak about the impact that I-95 has had on Pawtucket. She tells me about one man who lived next to I-95 and spoke about how his house was moved incrementally, week by week, during the construction of the highway.

with debates about the Hope Point Towers in Providence and the Belvedere at
Thames in Bristol, the I-95 Oral History Project comes at a time when many
Rhode Islanders are expressing concern about how the desire for industry can
have real consequences on local communities.

Steve Ahlquist

By his own admission, Steve Ahlquist, the former owner of Atomic Comics & Video, has “always been a writer.” He got his start in comic books and loves that they can communicate “ridiculous, beautiful new ideas.” After struggling to find a “home for his writing,” Steve went on to pen the Oz Squad series and co-create the anthology Strange Eggs. And while he will “always be a comics guy,” he eventually began thinking about how his work “could have an impact on the world,” which led him to journalism. He began with op-eds and started reporting on topics that he “felt were being ignored,” first for RI Future and later Uprise RI.

His approach to journalism is adamantly community-based. He tries to “look at the people affected by these governmental decisions, and cover the way they access, or not, the levers of power.” He thinks about his activism this way: “I can’t save the world, but maybe I can help save a small piece of it, and if there are a few million other people working this hard to save it, maybe we have a fighting chance.”

See Steve’s stories — written and filmed — at UpriseRI.com

Bristol’s Ode to Historic Hotpoint: A restored sign lights Bristol’s streets

Santa visited historic downtown Bristol early this year — on May 11, one still-cool Friday night. Swapping his sleigh for a Bristol Fire Truck, he rode into 39 State Street in historic downtown to raucous applause, celebrating with Hotpoint Emporium, an artist co-op and retail store, as they unveiled the restoration of the historic Hotpoint sign.

Hotpoint is a manufacturer of domestic appliances —  think washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners. But Hotpoint Emporium, which included “Hotpoint” in the organization’s name because the gorgeous neon glass sign, had been a part of the building since the 1940s. To the co-op, it would have felt out-of-step to name the organization anything different. As one of the few remaining original neon Hotpoint signs in the country, to the Emporium it was a remnant of Bristol and American history still preserved. The humble sign was worthy of some much-needed love and upkeep.

If you were to drive by the store earlier this year, the sign would have been distinct and quietly graceful. The tall sign, a navy blue with a white lettering spelling out “Hotpoint” needed some polishing, and most crucially, it needed its lights repaired. The glass tubing needed to be completely reworked. The Emporium, which has lived and worked in the 39 State Street space for a year and a half, decided to form a committee to fix the sign. From there, efforts to restore the beloved sign took off. The artists teamed up with Dion Signs, a sign shop in Central Falls, for the repairs.

They began work in February, posting regular updates on their Facebook page and even establishing a GoFundMe page. Members of the Bristol community, Rhode Islanders at large, and even folks who have no connection to RI but who love signs, began contributing. The landlord Federal Properties of R.I., Inc. contributed $5,000, and the community raised the rest, around $4,600.

On that night on May 11, set up to show the unveiling of the newly restored sign, Santa flipped the switch, showing a vibrant neon-sign that gave State Street a reddish glow. To celebrate, hoards of community members came to celebrate, while munching on food and drink from local stores. There were even blue sugar cookies that spelled “Hotpoint” in white icing. Members of Hotpoint Emporium Ellen Blomgren, Chryssa Udvardy and Kol Naylor mentioned that many of them will now drive by State Street even if it is out of their way, just to catch a glimpse of the restored sign.

Although the restoration stayed mostly faithful to the original, the main difference is the base of the sign. Previously it read “Brunelli’s” at the bottom, for the one-time owner. Now it reads “02809,” Bristol’s ZIP code, dedicating the renovation to the town. The night of the unveiling was a particularly lively night for the usually quiet Bristol at that time of year. Community members lingered joyfully around State Street. The event must have been a hit: The Emporium, which once depended on spending from tourists, has reported a significant increase in the number of local shoppers who come into the store.

Walking into Hotpoint, which contains an array of art from different media, from jewelry to print, ceramic and more, one of the most striking features is a new necklace of theirs. They decided to make use of every part of the sign, even some of the bits of old glass that was removed from the original. And customers can now buy necklaces made with the original glass, ornamented with colorful accents like beads and gemstones. Each necklace is unique, made with a specific piece of glass and a one-of-a-kind ornament. For an organization and a town that prides itself on community and historic preservation, this necklace seems fitting. It is wearable history, taking on a new life with each customer.

Free and Oh So Fun: An endless Rhody summer

After surviving the truly menacing phenomenon that is the bomb cyclone and enduring chilly 40-degree weather in May (?!), we deserve some summer fun. And there’s hardly a better way to celebrate the best season than with free events. Sunscreen? $8. Del’s? $4. An out of this-world-summer? Priceless. Art lovers can attend the RISD Museum for free on Sundays and every third Thursday; the zoo is free on first Saturdays; and the library is, of course, easy on the wallet. And almost everyone knows about WaterFire. But if you’re looking for more summer-specific (and free) happenings, check out our roundup.


Sure, seeing a film in a theater is cool. But have you ever seen a movie outside while being caressed by summer air? According to their Facebook page, PVD’s Movies on the Block will be returning this year, but they have found a new home, with a kick-off screening date TBD. With films like The Big Lebowski and Dr. Strangelove, Movies on the Block has an array of movie tastes covered. If you’re not feeling like a film in the city, you could always check out Mount Hope Farm’s “Flicks in the Field” in picturesque Bristol. Screenings will be June 15, July 20 and August 17.


Beer meets free tunes. Starting on July 12, the Burnside Music Series and Trinity Beer Garden returns. Grab some friends and catch the local stylings of DJ Justin Case every Thursday at 4:30pm for some live outdoor music. Bands like Boo City, Death Vessel and What Cheer? Brigade will all make an appearance. If you’re feeling fancy, the Rooftop at the Providence G will play music throughout the week, from reggae to rock. Westerly Town Beach’s signature free concert series is Tunes on the Dunes. Go for the lineup that features local blues and “Monday Night Jamz” from bands such as The Blues Beatles.


RI has some of the best beaches in the country — dare I say the world. Beach loyalists have their favorites — Narragansett? Second Beach? Misquamicut, anyone? — but whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. You can swim, you can kayak, you can even surf. Beaches are magical.


RI might not offer high peaks to scale, but we definitely have gorgeous scenery to explore by foot. The Mohegan Bluffs in Block Island offer particularly dramatic and stunning views. Sachuest Point in Middletown is striking for its views of the ocean and general solitude. The Cliff Walk nearby is touristy, but it’s popular for a reason! The views are truly unparalleled. The lush Narragansett Trail will take hikers across state lines — from Connecticut to our very own Hopkinton.

Awful Awful Mondays might not be free, but exploring beautiful RI is. With options like beach days to free music, hiking to art museums, Little Rhody packs a big punch.

Art! Dance! And More Food: Looking ahead to PVDFest

ExtrodinaryRenditionBandOnce again, PVDFest takes to the streets in celebration of rich arts and culture communities from RI and around the world. From June 6 through 9, there will be dance, art installations, an ideas festival and food (think a 50+ food truck “village” in Kennedy Plaza) throughout the public spaces. Sponsored by Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, FirstWorks and the City of Providence’s Department of Art, Culture+Tourism, it will be an energetic, exciting and uplifting event to help us shed the cold weather and usher in the summer.
One of the best aspects of PVDFest is much of the art on display and performances are meant to be engaged with in some way. This is especially true for the installation pieces destined for specific locales scattered throughout PVD. These works are meant to be explored — they feel organic, working with the building blocks of the city and writing in the visitor’s experience as part of their own. These interactive mixed-media works allow festival-goers to engage with them and find unique paths through them. They also are designed to exist harmoniously with the space that they occupy, since applicants needed to select a location for the work when applying. And they’ll live on beyond the end of PVDFest — they will remain installed throughout the summer. Motif caught up with three pioneering installation artists who will be showcasing their work at the festival.

“The Good Luck Gateway,” created by Vinnie Ray

For Vinnie, what began as a hobby — making a collection of stickers with motivational phrases and well-wishes — has turned into an installation. Vinnie’s path to PVDFest is somewhat unusual, which makes it all the more compelling. He worked as an artist in Brooklyn, but when he moved to Rhode Island, he took a creative hiatus. Once he started creating the stickers, he found himself committed to artistic practice once again. Upon hearing about PVDFest’s call for artists, Vinnie applied, and was ecstatic when accepted.

The Gateway serves as both sculpture and a passageway. Visitors follow the artist’s instructions as they go through the passageway, breathing in and remembering the luckiest moment in their lives, and finally exhaling when leaving the gate. Located in Empire Plaza, it is part art and part meditation. It is  20 feet wide by 12 feet high, and is decorated with a lightning bolt at the top, with a rainbow arch falling into clouds. Colorful and cheerful, one side of the arch reads “good” and the other says “luck.”

For Vinnie, “the idea [of the work] is to activate your own good luck, activate the energetic state that you would need to be in to attract good luck and positivity, so the more positive  you are, the more positive things happen…you start looking for positive things to happen, expecting them to happen, and that’s when really that’s when you start to feel lucky.” Visitors can also check out the sight and sound spectacle that he will create after the festival’s press conference that will be filled with good energy and purple smoke bombs.

“Sign-In,” created by Area C Projects

Located on a sidewalk near City Hall, this poignant piece is all about “civic discourse and voice,” and its location is definitely intentional. The artists reworked several actual street signs, writing phrases on them taken from The Providence Journal. On one side of the installation, the phrases begin with a “we” statement and on the side facing them they begins with a “they.” But the phrases on the signs themselves are generally de-politized. What is politicised — or at least evoking politisization — is the set-up. Area C Projects, a collaboration between Erik Carlson and Erica Carpenter, has done a lot of work with language as a part of their oeuvre, and this piece in particular is about the “different stances people take on an issue and the language that they use.” It will make visitors engage with dichotomy. The title of the piece is particularly fitting, as it is a play on “sit in.”

“Pnit,” created by Pneuhaus in collaboration with Smooth Technology

Drawing inspiration from RI’s history as a major textile producer, this 3D hanging installation is something for viewers to explore, while paying homage to some of the stories that make up the fabric of the Ocean State. Made out of yarn and decorated with LED lights, the piece will create a vibrant atmosphere when installed in the parking garage of the Civic Center. We spoke with August Lehrecke of Pneuhaus about the inspiration behind the piece:

“Our studio has always been interested in developing the craft of inflatables as well as exploring the various forms and experiences that they can facilitate. Because the materials we are working with are essentially the thickness of a piece of paper, we are able to scale certain forms to a size that would be very difficult to achieve out of solid materials. This installation originally began as an experiment of scaling up a typical knit pattern by turning each yarn into a 2-foot inflated tube. At a macro scale, the pattern gains many new associations and possibilities. One of these possibilities includes being able to incorporate lighting into the piece. The volume of the inflatable provides a great diffuser for LEDs embedded on the surface. With the incorporation of the LEDs and programming, we hope to transform the parking garage into a dynamic tapestry of light.”

PVDFest turns the entire city into an art installation. For one glorious weekend, folks come out to make art, see art and be art. With stellar performances, creative opportunities and the chance to explore the city from a lightly different perspective, this is a summer kick-off event that can’t be missed. For more information and performance schedules, go to pvdfest.org

Pie and the Sky: Take your dining outdoors this season

OgiesThis year so far has given us snow, rain, more rain and grey skies. RI doesn’t get the promised four seasons. Growing up, it was a joke that our seasons are autumn, winter, half winter, roadwork, summer. Really though, it’s all just roadwork. In the hopes that summer weather will soon be here, I have compiled a list of restaurants with good views and even better food to appease the weather gods.

We all know the Rhode Island Staples of Summer. You have Chelo’s by the Water, De Pasquale Square on Federal Hill, and essentially all of Newport as the go-to areas for that nice view while you eat your lobster roll. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with these places, but isn’t it nice to just spice it up a bit? Here are a few new ones to try.

English Muffin (1989 Plainfield Pike, Johnston) Always busy, always delicious. The English Muffin is a great breakfast place if you love large portions, pancakes and hot chocolate with a mountain of whipped cream. When the weather is nice, they have the patio set up for those who want to eat their breakfast and enjoy the breeze. They serve breakfast and lunch four days a week, but Wednesday through Friday, they stay open late for dinner. The homey atmosphere will make you want to go back for more.

Corner Bistro (1115 Hartford Pike, No. Scituate) Way out in the woods on the corner of 101 and 102 is a little restaurant disguised as a house called Corner Bistro. This family owned business offers everyone’s Italian favorites. Although it isn’t on Federal Hill, Corner Bistro boasts a large menu that can placate everyone’s food cravings. There’s a balance of chicken, beef and seafood meals, so there’s a bit more variety than some of the other spots on the list.

Finn’s Harborside (38 Water St., East Greenwich) Neighbors to the RI famous Chelo’s by the Water, Finn’s Harborside has a fantastic patio/dock hybrid. So if you’ve got a boat, feel free to come right up through the patio and the waitstaff will be happy to get you seated. From the lobster rolls to the calamari, there isn’t a thing at Finn’s that I haven’t loved eating. What’s best about this place is that there’s no rush to get you moving, a sentiment that can be found at all the restaurants on this guide. So relax, order another drink and another tray of oysters, and get settled in for the night.

Blackey’s Bulldog Tavern  (181 George Washington Highway, Smithfield) Always packed, but worth the wait. Blackey’s is an American eatery with a laid-back atmosphere. If you can stand the wait (or just make reservations beforehand), the food at Blackey’s is worth every minute, and they have a menu for those with gluten intolerances and other dietary needs. Their buffalo dip and margherita pizza are on both menus and are definitely worth a taste.

The Simple Greek Located in Garden City in Cranston, this restaurant is exactly what it claims to be: simple Mediterranean food from lamb to baklava. The Simple Greek is set up akin to Chipotle; you pick what type of meal you want and add what you think looks good as you walk down the queue. The Simple Greek also boasts a covered patio to shelter you from the harsh summer sun. It’s good food that doesn’t bust the bank, which is always a win. Plus, you don’t feel bad for eating it.

Matunuck Oyster Bar (629 Succotash Rd, Wakefield) A bit far south in the state for some, but I promise it is worth the drive. Matunuck Oyster Bar is a great place if you love taking your time and enjoying your meal. The food is all sourced from local farms and ponds, which is a plus for small businesses all around. Matunuck’s menu boasts a medley of different seafood dishes. Oysters can be found as appetizers and as main entrees. And if raw oysters aren’t your thing, maybe enjoy a cup of clam chowder or my personal favorite, the king crab legs.

Two Ten Oyster Bar & Grille (210 Salt Pond Rd, South Kingstown) Another South County gem. Just like Matunuck Oyster Bar (which is not that far from here) Two Ten has beautiful views of the ocean and a fantastic menu. Oysters, of course, are one of the best things to get and share with the table. Like Finn’s, the restaurant has a dock where you can self-park your boat. Their menu is full of fishy and land-dwelling options.

Dune Brothers Seafood (1 Ship St, Providence) Dune Brothers Seafood was started by a couple of guys living in Portland from the East Coast who reworked the chowder shacks of typical New England summer nights to something more modern. Owners Jason Hegedus and Nicholas Gillespie source all their ingredients from local fishermen and farmers. With resumes from restaurants in Boston, New York and Portland, Nick and Jason have the know-how to recreate your favorites. Their clam chowder has chunks of locally sourced littlenecks. For those trying to get through the summer without gaining an extra person, they also offer a light salad. Their “dock-to-dish” method means you get New England seafood with every meal.

Ogie’s Trailer Park (1155 Westminster St, PVD) For the 20- and 30-something crowd, Ogie’s gives off that carefree, dive-bar-but-not-really vibe. Their outdoor bar area follows the theme of eclectic, trailer park aesthetic. Didn’t know that was a thing, did you? It is true Americana cuisine: from the burgers to the tater tots, it’s simple, good eats. The menu is short, but fantastic, and you can’t go wrong with the truffle tots and a burger.

A Co-Op Finds its Home: Urban Greens to house first retail space


Starting a business can be a lengthy process. For Urban Greens Co-Op, the wait has been worth it. It was founded in 1999 as a buying club for a small group of people with a mission to supplement the lack of grocery store options in Providence’s West End. Since then, it has grown into a full-blown co-op with several hundred members. The cooperative has enjoyed a steady presence at farmers markets across Rhode Island, such as the Winter Market, Broad Street Farmers Market and the Hope Street Farmers Market. And soon, they will be opening a retail market; the exact date is currently unknown, but it is expected to take place over the next few months.

For now, board member Philip Trevvett says, “While there are some things that are taking a little longer, there is a lot that is coming into place and that it’s really exciting. We’re starting to get some early inventory in with the vendor selection coming, and a lot of the smaller local stuff is going to come in a little more last minute, but that’s the stuff we’re really excited about.”

Now that Urban Greens is hiring staff and the group of members continues to grow, Trevvett provides a sense of an organization that is really on the heels of fulfilling a project that they have been working toward not just for years, but for decades. Trevvett, who has been with the co-op for 9 years, says that Urban Greens has been in the process of creating a store for 13 years out of its 20-year history. “There have been a lot of ups and downs and hiccups and learning during that time,” he says.

After previously conducting meetings in offices across town, over the past few months Urban Greens has been able to actually meet in their own store, a spacious mixed-development building on Providence’s Cranston Street. “For most of this project, we were talking about something that doesn’t exist in any physical way yet, and we were pointing to an empty lot, or we didn’t even have have any empty lot. And then over the last year and a half there has been the start of construction to an exterior building, to now a full building, that we can point to and say, “This is what we’ve been working for.”

Aside from the administrative work of finalizing the details to determine a target date for opening the store, one of Urban Green’s most pressing initiatives is educating communities about the critical impact of healthy eating. In addition to appearing on local panels about the intersections of fresh, nutritious food and health, the co-op partners with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for the organization’s Community Cooking Program — eight weeks of classes making affordable and healthy recipes that also address food insecurity. Urban Greens provides free memberships to students who complete the course, but also plans on housing the Rhode Island Community Food Bank courses in cooking spaces at the market.

Another issue core to Urban Greens’ mission is to “bridge the gap” between national grocery store chains and local farmers markets. Their market will be large enough so that customers can have the convenience of shopping for a full grocery run, while also having the option to buy local foods that customers might only find at a farmers market.

Urban Greens’ market will soon be open to the public, to members and non-members alike.

That Sounds Sustainable!: Rhode Island businesses get smart about environmentally friendly packaging


Increasingly, consumers are making an effort to shop — and eat — more sustainably, with an effort to prioritize eating local foods that reduce one’s carbon footprint. Traditional Styrofoam packaging, plastic cutlery and take-out bags can wreak havoc on the environment, and several RI eateries have taken note. So Motif has come up with a list of a few local restaurants that have made the decision to use smart, sustainable packaging solutions. Whether you’re looking for fresh poke, or to sip on some pressed juice or coffee, there are ways to eat and drink while earning Mother Nature’s approval.

Fully Rooted is aptly named. Many of their products are local and organic, so customers can know “the story behind each carrot, tray of wheat grass, or bunch of kale.” The juicery uses only plant-based cups, compostable cutlery and reusable glass bottles for their juices, coffee and kombucha. But their commitment to sustainably sourcing their drinks, food (small bites such as brownie bites, collard wraps and cardamom overnight oats) and packaging extends even further. The juicery also uses glass straws hand-blown from local glass artist Jesse Yager. 59 Weybosset St, PVD and 560 Mineral Spring Ave, Pawtucket

Campus food can be sustainable, and Brown University’s dining halls prove that. The Sharpe Refectory (known to students as “The Ratty”), the Verney-Woolley, the Blue Room, Josiah’s and Andrews Commons earned high grades from the Green Restaurant Association in 2016 for their commitment to recyclable packaging and composting efforts.

Although Jason Hegedus and Nicholas Gillespie met in Portland, Oregon, they are Rhode Islanders at heart. Bonding over the fish and seafood shacks where they loved eating as children in Southern Rhode Island and Cape Cod, they decided to act on their nostalgia. The two friends-turned-business partners created pop-up diners offering up reimagined fish shack treats. Bouncing off of that success, they moved back to Rhode Island. Thus, Dune Brothers was born. The restaurant is very much a variation on a theme. With its bright red walls, this cozy fish shack is a modern take on the New England classic. Hegedus and Gillespie use a “dock-to-dish” approach, sourcing their seafood solely from New England waters. They approach the packaging of their products with sustainability in mind, using utensils made out of cornstarch and reusable wicker baskets for customers who dine in. 239 Dyer St, PVD

Borealis Coffee Company is an aesthete’s dream. Its painted brick building on a spacious Riverside green, with a gleaming white interior with wood floors and tables, beckons. The coffee house is committed to much more than visual principle, though. Its mission is to “bridge the gap between diner coffee and craft brews, between coffee snobs and everyday drinkers.” Borealis accomplishes this while maintaining its dedication to sustainable practices. The coffee roasters give discounts to customers who provide their own stainless steel straws and reusable cups; the company is trying to “push everyone to pause” and make a commitment to sustainable consumer practices.

Hometown Poke combines the fresh food that co-owners Becca and Tiffany would find while visiting Hawaii and living in California with an Ocean State flair. They often source their food, which is free of unhealthy preservatives or fillers, from Narragansett Bay Lobster and Tony’s Seafood — leaping from sea to plate. Therefore, supporting Hometown Poke also means supporting local businesses. And doubly so. The Mount Hope neighborhood building is owned by a local non-profit. This means that the restaurant’s rent goes to supporting the community. As expected, the meals are packaged with sustainable materials that minimize environmental impact.

Period Piece: Brown first-year talks about her Oscar win for Period. End of Sentence.

Charlotte Silverman is a first-year at Brown University and already has an Oscar under her belt. Period. End of Sentence., a film she executive produced when she was in high school, won the 2019 Best Documentary Short Subject category. It tells the story of women entrepreneurs in a village outside of New Delhi as they work to eradicate the stigma of menstruation. It’s being lauded for cinematic form, but perhaps its most lasting impact will be its social justice work. Silverman executive produced the film through an organization that she co-founded called The Pad Project, which connects with communities around the world where access to sanitary products is scarce and provides them with a machine that allows women to make and sell their own pads — appropriately named Fly Pads. I spoke with Charlotte about the film, The Pad Project and what’s next.

Isabella DeLeo (Motif): You started working on The Pad Project while still a high school student in Los Angeles. Can you talk a little bit more about how the project began and how it has evolved?

Charlotte Silverman: I’m a founding member of The Pad Project. There were about six of us; we were in a club called Girls Learn International at Oakwood School, and we learned about this issue because every year girls from the club go to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. A few girls had gone who were older than me, and they learned a lot about the issue — access to menstruation products and how that links to access to education. It was something none of us had heard about at the time. We had been doing a lot of pad and tampon drives for local women’s shelters, so we were interested in the issue of access. But we decided that we wanted to launch a more global initiative and try and create a network of activists around this issue. We had this ongoing partnership with this organization called Action India, and they also have a Girls Learn International chapter that’s based in Delhi. Girls come from local villages surrounding Delhi or they come from in the city and they meet and they talk about women’s health. They have different topics for all of their meetings, but one of the things they were also interested in working on was access to menstrual products, so we connected on that.

We basically came up with the idea together for using this invention that we had all heard of called the pad machine, and trying to see if we could implement it with them. It was very important to us that they were fully in control of the project, that we weren’t going to force anything on anyone, that it wasn’t our project. But we wanted to support Action India in whatever way we could in this initiative that they felt would be helpful in their community. That’s where the idea started and at the same time … we kind of threw around some ideas and a lot of conversations about whether it would be more useful to implement, say, three machines with the funds that we had or try this one machine and make a film about it and hope that people felt connected enough or inspired enough that they would see this as a tangible solution, or part of a solution. It was definitely risky to choose to make a film with the extra funds, but this is exactly what we were hoping for because now we’re getting the support and I guess, the people. Now we’re creating the network that we originally hoped for, that [allows us to do] work on this globally.

ID: Can you talk any current or upcoming initiatives The Pad Project is working on?

CS: So right now, there are many steps to take. We have two machines now installed and a third one is almost ready and they’re all through Action India. The reason it works is because we’ve had this very long relationship with Action India and we trust each other and have community connections. One thing we’re trying to navigate now is people reaching out for new pad machines. We want to make sure that [when] placing them in random places with people we don’t know that it is really a community initiative and that they have power over it. And we’re definitely working on a lot of support for legislation that provides free pads or tampons in school, things like that. So we’re trying to make this a more global initiative. We’re also interested in working in the US in low-income areas and areas with a lot of homeless women. Because this is an issue all over the world. We have a lot of big plans for the future of the project, but right now it’s trying to make sure each pad machine and each initiative is very individualized, but also a part of this larger movement.

ID: How has this initiative shed light on the importance of having access to menstruation products and education surrounding women’s health? 

CS: Since this has become more public, the film itself has become more in the public conversation in their communities — they have expressed that this conversation has finally begun. And it’s not that everything is solved now, but having people talk about these issues is a huge difference. Right now Action India is working on sending peer educators to schools and universities around Delhi to talk about Fly Pads and share what they’re doing and hopefully inspire other younger girls by seeing this woman run a project. A lot of what the work is now is education, not to say that we know how to solve everything and this is the answer to the world’s problem, but just to give an example of what community activism can look like.