Llego La Navidad: Breaking down the traditional Puerto Rican Christmas feast, one dish at a time

The holiday season is here, which means parties, giftgiving, acts of kindness, and yummy food. It’s the time of year to not only give and receive, but also to celebrate the different ways to celebrate, so that we can relate to one another. And what better way to do that than to see what’s cooking for the holidays across cultures?

Nora Dooley’s famous children’s book Everybody Cooks Rice comes to mind, where the main character gets to sample dinner at every house in her neighborhood while searching for her brother to bring him home for their own dinner. Not only did she get her fill of delicious food, but she had a world of possibilities opened up to her, all while realizing that despite their differences, each dinner had one common denominator: rice.

In Puerto Rican culture, the traditional Christmas feast (held on December 24 or Noche Buena) definitely has rice as an absolute must. Every nook and cranny of your place fills up with smells and warmth to make your mouth water and cheeks flush with anticipation. And now, a la Nora Dooley, I’m going to break down each dish that makes up this coveted feast. A comer!

Main Course

Pernil y Arroz con Gandules

It wouldn’t be a Puerto Rican Christmas without Pernil (roasted pork shoulder) and Arroz con Gandules (rice and pigeon peas). The pork is seasoned, then slow-roasted in the oven for most of the day (just like the turkey on Thanksgiving Day), and by the time it is out of the oven, the tender meat and juicy pork skin slide right off the bone. The rice is yellow from a combo of sazón and tomato paste, getting its distinct flavor from sofrito, the first ingredient that goes into the pot, along with recao, oregano, and bay leaves.

Side Dish #1


The best way to describe the magic of Pasteles: simply delicious. You start with a plantain-based masa and fill it with all the good things – cubes of meat (mainly pork), chickpeas, and large green olives with a cherry tomato piece in the center. Although a delight to eat, they are time-consuming to make, taking hours to mash up the masa, mix in the fixings, and wrap them up in banana leaves. Pasteles are typically made in large quantities and frozen for consumption for up to several months, making them easy to get from family or close friends when you are too tired to make them yourself.

Side Dish #2


In between bites of your Arroz con Gandules, Pernil, and Pasteles, fill your fork with some well-seasoned Morcilla. This blood sausage can also be eaten on its own as an appetizer, and despite its name, it is well-cooked and consists mostly of rice, onions, and seasoning mashed together. The f irst bite is a mix of firm crunchiness from the outside casing and warm, fragrant softness from the rice and spices, with a little spicy kick at the end.



At some point, you will need to wash down all the deliciousness described above. The go-to Boricua drink is Coquito, a coconut eggnog rum that will keep you smacking your lips long after the first sip. Coquito is celebrated in Puerto Rican culture for its toasty, sweet taste and creamy consistency that will make you reach for seconds in no time. Along with coconut milk and rum, the drink is made with condensed milk, vanilla extract, and cinnamon sticks – a recipe for extra holiday cheer. Just make sure you drink it on a full stomach!


Arroz con Dulce / Turron

And last but certainly not least is dessert, a quintessential classic – Arroz con dulce. But this dish is more than just sweetened rice with cinnamon sprinkled on top – it’s the island itself embedded in each grain of rice soaked in coconut milk and vanilla extract. While you can definitely warm it up, the dessert is typically eaten cold, just like rice pudding.

If Arroz con Dulce is just too rich and creamy to pair with the Coquito, there is always Turron, another traditional Christmas dessert that gives peanut brittle a run for its money. Turron is a firm, toasted almond nougat candy made from egg yolk, sugar, and honey that will keep you crunching up a storm all the way to the New Year.

‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Neurodiversity: Spectrum Theatre Ensemble hosts holiday fundraiser, new play readings in PVD

Do you love live theater? Are you passionate or curious about neurodivergence? Spectrum Theatre Ensemble (STE), a company of neurodiverse theater artists, will be hosting a Holiday Fundraiser and new play readings on Saturday, Dec 10, from 6:30pm – 9:30pm at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse in PVD.

The reading will feature four of six new plays chosen for STE’s 2022-2023 season. All six plays, selected from a pool of 60 submissions, will be developed and performed during the company’s Spring 2023 Neurodiversity Everywhere Tour and Summer/Fall 2023 Neurodiversity New Play Festival.

The goal of the fundraising event is to help STE connect with people in the community who want to learn more about their mission. “We [also] want to thank donors and supporters who have helped open doors for new people to experience STE and get a taste of the work [we] are doing,” said Bay McCulloch, Development and Marketing Director at STE.

During last summer’s Neurodiversity New Play Festival, all plays centered around the concept of time. This year, the main goal of the plays is to increase awareness around the under or misdiagnosis of neurodiverse conditions in the BIPOC community.

Neurodiverse conditions include but are not limited to Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Dyslexia, Epilepsy, Developmental Language Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, Tourette’s and Tic Disorders, and Intellectual Disabilities.

As part of their mission, STE “engages artists and audiences in developing social skills, empathy, and self-determination.” It was founded with the belief that “theatre provides a unique, collaborative venue for the understanding and inclusion of all, and that our society and culture are stronger for it.” “We want to highlight BIPOC neurodivergent talent and to have voices from female artists,” said McCulloch. The main selection criteria for this year’s plays were “to have representation” and to “tell stories often not seen in theatre.”

Of the four plays being read at the upcoming fundraiser/reading event, two were written by STE staff members – Keeping Mum by Resident Dramaturg Craven Poole, and Space by Director of New Work Development Harmon Dot Aut. The reading will also feature The Loudness of It All by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, and A Firework Unexploded by Dave Osmundsen.

Dot Aut’s play Space spotlights synesthesia, a condition which the APA dictionary describes as “a stimulation of one sense that generates a simultaneous sensation in another.” Dot Aut, who was recently appointed Director of New Work Development at STE, submitted the play in 2021 for the Neurodivergent Playwright Initiative, which was unanimously chosen to be staged.

“This opportunity led me to a closer working relationship with STE as we rehearsed online,” they said. They went on to write and perform a short play called Naming Things, about processing the concept of joy.

When it comes to new play submissions, Dot Aut considers them an essential part of the STE’s mission, which is to introduce the theater company to new neurodivergent writers. “At the moment, I am working with Craven Poole and Artistic Director [and STE Founder] Clay Martin to focus our attention on building up the Residency Program in order to develop full-length works that center [on] neurodivergent characters and stories,” they said.

Martin is excited to launch the Residency Program to “identify and help develop new playwrights both in PVD and abroad.” He recommends keeping an eye on the STE website for more information in the coming months. Martin founded STE as a non-profit with longtime creative partner PJ Miller in 2018, who developed a grant proposal for a Neurodiverse Theatre company. Once awarded a two-year grant, Martin and Miller partnered with Trinity Rep in 2016 to develop what has become STE.

“As a neurodivergent individual, I often faced challenges both in the classroom and socially. Theatre became a natural haven and calling for me, where I could observe and practice social interaction and thrive in a way I could not in a typical classroom,” Martin said. As it stands now, STE has exceeded Martin’s initial expectations. “Even through the pandemic, both STE and, more importantly, the artists who drive it, continue to evolve and grow exponentially year to year,” he said.

For Bay McCulloch, finding STE and eventually getting involved with them helped her come to terms with her own traumatic brain injury. “When I started with STE, I was recovering from a head injury and with all the changes I experienced, I didn’t know how to talk to people about it,” she said. Working at STE, McCulloch was able to understand and learn more about her injury as well as tend to her needs to give her best while at work. “STE is accommodating of that, whereas at other jobs, I was never able to be honest about the way my brain works,” she said. Now, McCulloch sees neurodivergence as an asset instead of a liability. “It’s amazing to get to show up as myself,” she said.

For Martin, STE has become the strong force that it is thanks to PVD. “The amazing work that organizations like Trinity Rep, The Autism Project, and so many others have done and continue to do provided a ground work and support that made a company like ours possible,” he said.

For tickets to the Holiday Fundraiser and New Play Readings event, visit the Eventbrite page. For more information, visit stensemble.org.

Original Theater Production Permanent Solutions: Diving deep into mental health/suicide

Photo by Stephanie Callaghan

The final curtain call for Director, Playwright, and lead actress Cassidy Caduto’s original production Permanent Solutions at AS220 may have been on October 9, but its resounding emotional grit and raw honesty lingered on long after the show ended. 

The two-act play, which premiered at RI Stage Ensemble (RISE) in April 2022 and was brought back as an abridged production at FringePVD in July 2022, takes an unapologetically close look at suicide and mental illness from a survivor’s perspective. And while the show is direct and not for the faint of heart, Caduto’s main goal is to break associated stereotypes and stigmas surrounding suicide and mental health.

“We try so hard as a culture not to think about suicide and mental health until it’s too late. Most forms of mainstream media written on the topic glorify and glamorize it and set a dangerous misunderstanding for those consuming said media,” she said. 

Permanent Solutions centers on main characters Katherine Hudson and Emma Rhodes, two patients enrolled in an assisted suicide clinic who couldn’t be more different yet are able to find common ground eventually. Katherine (played by Caduto) is a cynical rebel who is ready to get it over with but finds herself slowly opening up to the persistently amicable Emma (played by Maggie Scarborough), an eccentric artist with love to spare for everyone but herself.

The assisted suicide process is administered in pill form and consists of two doses – the first, which Caduto said “shuts down the immune system over 12 hours,” and the second, lethal dose that yields “no pain or resistance.” 

As they wait for the first dose to kick in, the two women break the ice and reveal their respective personal stories that ultimately brought them there, through flashback scenes with family and loved ones. What unfolds is a poignant connection amid the grim circumstances, which had the audience (including yours truly) sniffling until the very end.

In the show, “taking your life” holds a double meaning, where you are either deciding to end it or stick around. For Katherine, her decision to take her life stems from being abandoned by others. Katherine doesn’t see the point in sticking around if “everybody leaves,” one of her signature lines in the play, which has echoed in my brain since leaving the AS220 BlackBox theater.

Although the play’s short run at AS220 is over, Caduto does plan to stage it again in 2023, due to the overwhelmingly positive response. “The responses I’ve gotten from audiences after each performance have been unreal,” she said. “The amount of strangers who approach me in tears ready to share intimate stories of their struggles or of loved ones is the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced as a writer.”

The play’s reach has also expanded, and Caduto is excited to see where it will go next.

“The audiences have only grown in both size and enthusiasm every time we bring it back and I plan on riding that wave wherever it goes, whether it’s a professional local theater or New York City,” she said.

Caduto penned the first draft of what would later become Permanent Solutions over a decade ago, just a year before her own suicide attempt in 2013. “It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my beginning this project all those years ago was an attempt at a goodbye note,” she said in her Director’s Note.

When it comes to sharing her own struggles through her work and interactions with others, Caduto considers herself an open book who isn’t afraid to share anything. “At this point, I have no apprehension in talking about trauma or my own history with mental illness,” she said. 

Hearing others be open about their own experiences inspired Caduto to share her own truth and perspective, which has been healing. “The first time you hear someone confidently and honestly talk about something that you’ve been conditioned to be ashamed of can be earth-shattering,” she said.

Caduto is all about advocating for others who are struggling with their mental health by talking about her own experiences. “If I could make someone who didn’t feel they could ask for help realize that it’s okay to get help, and that it isn’t weak to want to connect, then I will have done exactly what I set out to do.”

Permanent Solutions has undergone 10-15 drafts and has evolved between productions as well. “Even the version seen at RISE was quite different from what was put on at AS220,” she said. Caduto expects for it to return next year on a larger scale and is excited to see what impact it will continue to make.

For now, the play’s takeaway is pretty clear: While everybody does leave, whether voluntarily or by pure circumstance, it doesn’t mean that you have to.

“The black and white photo of the dark-haired girl crying alone behind the bleachers at school isn’t the face of depression. Robin Williams was the face of depression. Suicide isn’t beautiful or poetic, it’s hideous and tragic.”

“Art is what unites us”: Robertico Y Su Alebreke brings Latin flavor to RI Latinos and beyond

For almost 20 years, Latin music band Robertico y su Alebreke has been bringing Latin music to the community at large across RI. Aficionados in PVD, Pawtucket, Central Falls and beyond have become fans of the group’s diversified sound, including salsa, Latin jazz, bachata, and merengue.

Musician Robertico Arias has seen the Latin music scene boom in RI and doesn’t anticipate it slowing down anytime soon. Salsa is what Arias is mainly known for, and he finds that most musicians in the local Latin music scene concentrate heavily on bachata and typical merengue.

“I’m being sought out to play more salsa and Latin jazz at private events,” he said. Events include weddings, where patrons request salsa, cumbia, and bolero to dance to. According to Arias, his reach has grown and diversified just as the music scene has.

“We [also] have a great presence with non-Latino audiences through our Latin jazz,” Arias said. Along with a recent gig at Waterfire in PVD, Alebreke has performed in Jamestown, at a salsa night in Portsmouth and at the Newport Museum, among other places. They are also on their way to being known internationally, with their music getting airplay in Argentina, Peru, and Arias’ native Dominican Republic.

With most of their music also being distributed digitally through platforms like Spotify, Amazon, and iTunes, the doors have been opened for Alebreke to be heard across continents. Their album, Musico, Poeta, y Loco (Musician, Poet, and Crazy) was released in 2017 with 24 digitally downloadable tracks, which Arias is proud of.

One of his most recent projects is the track Soy del Caribe (I’m from the Caribbean), released in 2021 as an homage to Arias’ heritage. “I wrote it to vent about arriving [to the US] and the cold weather,” he said. 

Arias has recorded with merengue star Wilfrido Vargas and an array of other musicians. He is currently planning an international tour in the Dominican Republic and is working on a new salsa hit, La Batea, in his home studio, where he mixes and arranges all music.

Arias credits his mother, also a musician, for getting him started as a percussionist specializing in congas, bongo, timbales and percussion arrangement. “My mom is my number one influence; she would take me with her whenever she played at festivals and I saw the process of how the musicians warmed up their instruments,” he said.

Over time, Arias became a music instructor, teaching undergraduate students at Berklee College of Music, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. He also taught secondary students at Cranston East High School. “My students were from different cultures at the schools I taught at,” he said.

Alabreke was formed in 2001 but was side-tracked due to 9/11 and officially started playing in 2003. “In the Dominican Republic, Alabreke means a hyper-active, diverse person who likes to be in everything,” Arias said. “It’s a person that is always happy, with chispa. And not only salsa can be used to invoke Alebreke, it can be invoked by other styles [of music] as well.”

Latin music and dance in RI unite as one

Arias finds the Latin dance community helpful in getting local Latin music on the map. He recently played at a salsa night in Warren during a lesson and saw firsthand how well attendees responded to the music.

“There is a cross-fusion with dancers and musicians and people love to see that,” he said. “It’s marvelous.”

RI Latin Dance founder and owner Mori Granot-Sanchez couldn’t agree more. “The Latin music and dance scene in RI is beautiful and diverse,” she said. “I personally enjoy it the best when we get to dance to live bands at all the different festivals and outdoor events we have in RI.”

Granot-Sanchez finds it beautiful when music and dance blend together, for all to enjoy through the talented artists and musicians from Little Rhody, regardless of background. “You don’t need to be Latino/a to enjoy the culture, music and dance, you just need to appreciate its beauty, respect the roots where it originated from and join the party,” she said. 

Arias is also most inspired by seeing everyone in the community united to celebrate one another through art and culture, be it within the Latino community or beyond.

“If we do an event, it’s important for Latinos to go and support it,” he said. “We should also all be united as a community [of] all cultures. Art is what unites us.”

There’s more to life than pumpkin spice: Fall latte alternatives to warm your senses

It’s no secret that Autumn brings with it a bunch of delicious flavors to keep you toasty and calm during those chilly nights once the summer sun begins to set.

And we all know too well which one takes the cake every year: Pumpkin spice anyone?

The Pumpkin Spice Latte, launched by Starbucks back in 2003, has been all the rage every Fall during the last decade. Coffee shops far and wide bring back the tasty concoction far ahead of the first day of Autumn due to customer demand.

And while this foamy, fragrant drink is undeniably tasty, I can’t help but think about all the potential alternatives that deserve the spotlight too. There’s gotta be more to Fall than pumpkin spice, and I took it upon myself to explore what else is out there.

Local Shops Weigh In

As part of my futile quest to find pumpkin spice’s potential successor, I hit up a few PVD coffee shops for some leads. While some dare to test the waters with new creations, others are kicking up the coveted pumpkin flavor in new ways.

Brew Grindz calls the shots

Brew Grindz in North Providence is serving up hot lattes with pumpkin cheesecake, pistachio, or cookie dough shots, which patrons are not complaining about. Katelyn, a Barista at the cozy shop on Mineral Spring Avenue, said it’s all about becoming a mixologist to start someone’s morning right. “There’s so much more than [pumpkin] spice,” she said. “We just like to mix flavors to create those alternatives for the Fall.”

The Nitro Cart’s Rival Drink

While pumpkin spice is the contender for lattes at The Nitro Cart in Providence, it has a rival best-seller. “I would say the Maple Sea Salt Latte is pretty comparable to the Pumpkin Spice Latte,” said Jake, Barista at The Nitro Cart. “People buy it as much as they do pumpkin spice and seem to really like it.”

Keepin’ it Spicy at Latte Love

Pumpkin spice remains the go-to at Latte Love in Johnston as well, with customers requesting it in early August, but there are other flavors working their way up the ranks. Alternate flavor requests include honey cinnamon and brown sugar as well as maple, per Barista Sarah.

For those with an aversion to pumpkin, simple spiced chai is the best bet. “Spiced chai is also very popular with customers, mainly selling from September to January,” said Oliver, another Barista at Latte Love. Oliver has also gotten word about other cafes experimenting with squash flavor. Hmm, not too sure about that one.

White Electric Cookin’ Up Maple/Apple, Caramel Delights

When it comes to innovation, White Electric in Providence takes the gold. They currently have a brand-new maple/apple flavor in the works, which has gotten the green light from the shop’s staff after initial taste testing. 

Although not a latte per se, the drink includes apple butter, maple syrup, apple cider, 

cinnamon, and your choice of milk for a creamy texture. “It’s a sweet, creamy, apply-y beverage that I think rivals a hot apple cider or even a hot cocoa in the winter,” said James, Barista at White Electric.

The eclectic shop on Westminster Street may also introduce a Salted Caramel Praline Latte with salted caramel, hazelnut and brown sugar, which will become official once vetted by staff. “If enough people like it and are enthused about it, we’ll put it on our specials menu,” he said.

In the meantime, White Electric currently offers “The Cereal Killa” on their specials menu, which Barista Chloe considers a good latte alternative. It’s made with Oat Milk along with house-made lavender and hibiscus herbal syrups that are “good for the soul.”

They have yet to decide if they are bringing back their house-made pumpkin spice syrup for their Fall line-up, which will probably start by the Autumn Equinox on September 22.  “I think it’s very likely it will make an appearance here again since I hear it was very popular last year,” said James.

Word on the street

I was surprised (and maybe a tad pleased) to find that most of the people I spoke with on the streets of PVD are NOT Pumpkin Spice enthusiasts (it was pure coincidence, I promise) and had other go-to’s they turn to for the season ahead. 

Natasha from Providence would take a cappuccino or matcha latte any day over pumpkin spice. Lucas from Somerville, Massachusetts is all about the Americano, as is Stan from Smithfield, who also goes for the classic cup of Joe served black, which best captures a coffee’s natural flavor. 

So, there you have it – there IS more out there than pumpkin spice. Mission accomplished.

Kelly and the Poor Boys: CCR gets a feminine twist

It was early in the evening, right around suppertime, when I arrived at the Harmony Café in Manville to see Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) tribute band Kelly and the Poor Boys. 

When I walked in, they were raring to go –  Dana Blake on drums, Jason Carpentier on bass, Sal Chinappi on the keys, Robbie Ray Poisson on lead guitar, and Eddie Donovan on rhythm guitar.  And of course Kelly Gray Donahue, the female lead vocalist with the long, pink scarf tied to her mic stand.

After the show, we got  to chat about their favorite Creedence tunes, bar fights and more:

LuzJennifer Martinez (Motif): How did you practice during lockdown?

Jason Carpentier: We probably sneaked one practice in every couple of weeks. We maintained social distancing at Dana’s house for practices.

Kelly Gray Donahue: We started The Creedence Tribute in January of 2021. And I would be in the corner, like “Don’t come near me!”

LJM: Do you play full-time?

Robbie Ray Poisson: I work a day job at International Packaging and I’m a first shifter. I can play gigs relatively easily and not disrupt my schedule. 

Dana Blake: Sal and I have it easy; we’re both retired.

KGD: I work during the day too. I work in biotech and my position will become more remote. That will make it much easier with Thursday or Friday night gigs.

LJM: That’s quite a change, going from biotech to rocking out.

KGD: It’s my alter ego. When I tell people I work with that I sing in a band, they are quite surprised. 

LJM: How long have you been singing?

KGD: I’ve been singing for about 10 years. I met these guys through The Stones tribute band The 19th Nervous Breakdown. They had a female vocalist who was not available for a few shows, so I jumped in.

JC: Kelly’s pretty fearless. We gave her a week and said ‘’We need someone to help with these gigs,”  and she was right there.

LJM: What are some other bands that you like?

JC: Robbie likes the heavy stuff. I’m a fan of that but I also listen to The Monkees and The Bee Gees.

RRP:  I do enjoy The Monkees but I’m into Jethro Tull and Alex Cooper. It depends on my mood.

JC: It’s a challenge when you are a tribute band because after you play the songs 500 times, you hope to still like the songs.

LJM: What are your favorite Creedence songs?

KGD: I like “Tombstone Shadow” and “Old Man Down the Road.”

RRP: “I put a Spell on You” is my favorite. I also like “Low Tide” because I play very little guitar on it, so it’s almost like taking a break.

Eddie Donovan: I’m with Robbie on “I put a Spell on You.”

JC: That one’s a challenge for us. It’s got a lot of nuisances to it and it’s a longer song. It definitely keeps us on our toes when we play it.

LJM: Do the songs have open rights?

JC: We don’t really have to pay for the rights to perform the songs because the venues that we play at pay ASCAP or BMI.  It’s like a blanket fee.

However, if we were to record songs and try to sell them, that becomes our responsibility. 

ED: Beatlemania was actually sued in the ‘70s for being a tribute act and they won their case, which paved the way for all tribute acts to continue. 

JC: Tribute bands still get sued on occasion but it has to do more with logo infringement than the music itself.

LJM: What are some audience reactions when you play? 

ED: The groupies are overwhelming most times.

DB: The sarcasm is palatable!

Sal Chinappi: We have to carry big sticks!

DB: The funniest thing I’ve seen so far happened yesterday. There was a bar fight during one of Kelly’s favorite tunes.

KGD: Yes, during “Don’t you wish it was true.” It’s such a happy song, and a bar brawl was getting ready to break out. It was halfway through the second set.

DB: I think Robbie said it best yesterday: the guy with the flip-flops who landed on his ass should have figured out he was on the losing side of things. 

ED: He deserved it for wearing flip-flops.

RRP: People seem to enjoy the act. With Creedence, everybody’s gonna have a favorite song. 

SC: The fact that a woman is singing and it’s coming out good, they listen to it. I think having a different approach to it, with Kelly as a front, really blows them away.

LJM: What are the takeaways you want for your audience?

JC: We just want them to have a good time. We’re glad people are showing up and responding to the music. You can put us in a closet and if people are there, we’ll be there. 

RRP: I agree; if people are having a good time and they can keep the bar fights to a minimum, it’s a great time. That’s all I care about. 

KGD: We’re creating an experience. In one of our earlier gigs, there was a woman who said she danced to Creedence at Woodstock.

JC: Everyone has a connection to Creedence somehow. Whether you just found the music or your parents listened to it, it’s a connection. And it’s lasted for generations; we’re talking 50 years.

“Artists Have Families Too”: Petition for city Event vendor pay increase passed to PVD City Council for final review

A petition to increase the pay for local vendors contracted for city events has been reviewed by the Providence Charter Review Commission and is now in the hands of the Providence City Council for final review and approval.

Currently, Section 21-27 in the Code of City Ordinances allows a threshold of $5,000 for vendors (DJs, Poets, Singers, Authors, Actors, Table Vendors, or Media Personalities) to be contracted for city events without going through a bidding process. If the amount they charge exceeds $5,000, the vendor must then compete with two other vendors for the gig through a bid.

Once bids for vendor candidates are received, “any such contract shall be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder among them.” The petition requests a minimum of $10,000 to replace the $5,000 threshold “so that city departments can give financially meaningful contracts to vendors without having to go out to bid.”

If approved, the minimum amount that vendors can be paid for an event will increase to $10,000. Artists will also be paid via direct deposit instead of by check. 

Local award-winning poet, author, filmmaker and CEO of Orange Entertainment Damont Combs (aka Mr. Orange), with the support of 30 fellow artists, wrote the petition to ensure vendors are paid sustainable and timely wages for their involvement in city events. 

Several local advocacy and art groups also supported Combs, including the African American Advisory Group (AAAG), Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Belonging, RI Black Storytellers and Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading.

With the insanely high inflation rate, the proposed amendment came just in time. Combs mainly rallied for these changes given the rapidly changing value of the American dollar. 

“Another reason for doing this is I have kids; I’m a family man and I want to teach [my] kids to get paid for what they are worth,” he added.

In 2021, Combs participated in six city events, but it took him about four to five months to get paid for them. “I reached out to the artist community to see if anyone else was having the same issue. It’s been an issue for 20 years and artists thought it was normal,” he said.

Combs decided to find out more about the bidding process and ordinances in place. “I went to the Providence Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism (ACT) and the Mayor’s office to request a meeting but was told they’d get back to me,” he said.

Combs eventually got to meet with Mayor Elorza, who gave him helpful pointers to get the initiative started. “He’s been helpful with starting the process. It may look like I’m alone, but I have people helping me.”

It took Combs about six months to complete the petition letter and figure out how contracts are handled in the city. There were some in the artist community who were reluctant to join the cause. 

“Many thought that I was fighting the ACT and the Mayor, but I wasn’t,” he said. “I was fighting for artists to get paid, that’s why I started this.” 

Some were also skeptical, wondering how an ordinance that had been in place for decades could be changed. Regardless, Combs’ fellow artists have thanked him for what he is doing and encouraged him to keep going. 

The initiative has directly affected Combs in several ways. “I’m not getting paid for this. I’m also not getting event bookings because I don’t have time,” he said.

Combs attended about 2-6 hour-long meetings per month to get information, research ordinances, and meet with people to understand what he was reading.

“If there is going to be a change, the price must be paid,” he said.  One of Combs’ biggest supporters is NiLa, a singer, songwriter, mom, and long-term creative from the south side of PVD who runs the NiLa78 Masquerade. 

While NiLa recognizes the rich opportunity for artists and home-grown talent in the Renaissance city of PVD, she is aware of the disparity between what performers put in and how they are compensated.

“Before you get paid, you have to pay for it [i.e., deposit, equipment, etc.] and then you are promised to be paid eventually. I am simply grateful [Orange] has been a leader,” she said.

NiLa emphasized how properly compensating community artists and performers not only makes them feel appreciated, but it also puts food on the table. 

“Artists have families too; [we] are not second-class citizens because we go after performing arts,” she said. 

“It’s a huge slap in the face for artists to not be able to cover their bills. It’s unfair to put them in that position.”

The Cultural Flavors of RI: Motif’s mini-guide to summer BIPOC festivals and events

Looking to expand your cultural horizons this summer? Little Rhody has got you covered, with a wide variety of upcoming cultural festivals that will get you to eat, dance and celebrate life in new ways.

Why travel abroad when there’s so much rich diversity in your own backyard? With events like Culture Fest 2022, RI is showcasing its cultural tapestry for all to learn from.

Culture Fest Founder Kobi Dennis is looking forward to starting up the festivities for the first time since the pandemic by bringing people together again to celebrate one another’s differences.

“I want folks to start to get to know each other on a face-to-face basis again, by sharing different cultures, food and music,” he said.

Excited yet? Good! Now read on for a list of festivities coming your way in the next few months.

Roger Williams Park Lights Up Providence with Asian Lantern Spectacular 

Runs now until July 4
Roger Williams Zoo
1000 Elmwood Ave, PVD

Looking for a family-friendly activity with some history? Try the 2nd annual Asian Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Zoo, which is open  until the 4th of July.

With over 50 spectacular glowing lanterns displayed zoo-wide, a kid’s interactive lantern area, savory Asian-inspired cuisine, drinks, handcrafted keepsakes and more, this walk-through event will appeal to families of all ages.

The lantern spectacular is a testament to  Roger Williams Zoo’s commitment to foster inclusivity and build engaging experiences for visitors, as Interim Marketing & Public Relations Manager Corrie Ignagni told Motif.

“We support and celebrate diversity and we are excited to celebrate 2,000 years of tradition during this truly remarkable event that promotes multiculturalism and encourages learning about different customs,” Ignagni said.  “Conservation, community and diversity are at the heart of the Zoo’s core values, and this is an amazing opportunity that brings families together to make lasting memories and engage themselves in new cultural traditions.”

Join the celebration of traditional illuminated lanterns while jamming to music and dance performances held every Friday – Sunday evening by local community organizations and groups.

For more information, visit https://www.rwpzoo.org/lantern.

Jazz Up Your June with PVD World Music at Poindexter Coffee

Friday, June 3, 6 pm – 8:30 pm 
Poindexter Coffee at Graduate Providence
11 Dorrance Street, PVD

Graduate Providence will be welcoming PVD World Music to Poindexter coffee, with musical talent from Africa and around the world. The show will feature Latin Jazz from a Columbian American artist as well as an American Classical Jazz artist. 

PVD World Music Founder Chance Boas described the event as “a new edition” to PVD World Music’s lineup of concerts, since its inception four years ago.

Join them as part of the Institute’s mission to “increase RI’s exposure to traditional music, arts, and cultural heritage.”

For more information, visit pvdworldmusic.com

Caribbean Heritage Month Celebration Kicks off in Narragansett

Saturday, June 18, 3 – 7 pm 
Aqua Blue Hotel
1 Beach Street, Narragansett
Tickets: $40

Food, music, island vibes – Narragansett is celebrating all things Caribbean at the Aqua Blue Hotel, with a mix and mingle at the beach, and music by DJ Malik. This first installment of the Caribbean festivities will continue in PVD with the Heritage Festival on June 25 (more info on that in the next description!).

The heritage month celebration is hosted by Authentic Caribbean Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Boston and geared towards transforming the lives of Caribbean children impacted by disabilities and HIV/Aids by providing health and educational support. 

All proceeds from this event support children of Guyana. For more information, visit authenticcaribbeanfoundation.org

Caribbean Pride Takes over PVD at Caribbean American Heritage Festival

Saturday, June 25, 11 am – 6 pm 
The Waterfire Arts Center
475 Valley Street, PVD
Tickets: $10 – $40

The Caribbean American Diaspora community will be celebrating 17 years since the proclamation of National Caribbean American Heritage Month through the heritage festival.

Head to the Waterfire Arts Center in PVD to share the cuisine, beats and cultural milestones of this vibrant community. Attendees will groove to Steel Band Temple International and the Greg Roy band while sampling Caribbean delicacies, all in honor of the rich culture the Caribbean Diaspora community have brought to the state of RI.

“This is a great state, and our goal is to showcase the heritage and culture which has contributed to it,” said Andrew Sharpe, chairman of the Authentic Caribbean Foundation. 

For more information, visit caribbeanamericanheritagefest.com.

Get Ready for Good Vibes at Culture Fest ’22 

Friday, July 1, 3 pm – Sunday, July 3, 11 pm
The Cornerstone Complex
25 Maple Street 
Pawtucket, RI 02860

Pawtucket has a jam-packed weekend of cultural diversity at this year’s Culture Fest ’22. A wide array of cultures will be on display outdoors at The Cornerstone Complex, which Founder Kobi Dennis describes as downtown Pawtucket’s “Black block of businesses” run by women, African American, Latino and BIPOC entrepreneurs.

While most of the festivities will be free of charge, there will also be a few ticketed evening events held indoors. Dennis expects up to 6,000 attendees for this year’s festivities, which is in its second year since the pandemic.

“The goal of the event is to bring people together to start to appreciate one another’s culture,” he said. Attendees can expect a broad range of music including Jazz, Christian and R&B hip-hop, along with food, spoken word and much more.

For more information, visit culturefestri.com, email info@culturefestri.com or visit the Culture Fest pages on social media @CultureFestRI.

Puerto Rican Bayfest is Back at India Point Park

Sunday, July 24, noon –  7 pm
India Point Park
225 India Street, PVD

Looking for grub, infectious smiles and endless dancing? Look no further than the Puerto Rican Bayfest, which is back for the summer of 2022 and will have you saying Wepa! at the array of activities taking place.

Hosted by the Puerto Rican Professional Association of RI, the Bayfest will have kiosks, a kid’s area and food trucks on India Point Park grounds.

For more information, visit prpari.org.

Crave more Latino Flavor? Check out the “Connecting Our People” Workshop Series at Providence Community Libraries

The “Connecting Our People” workshop series is a combination of recreational and informative programs ranging from storytelling to dancing to Latino cooking.

Other events include educational workshops on how to start a small business, and skills courses on sewing, video production, photography and creative writing.

Workshops are held at the Knight Memorial, Mount Pleasant, Olneyville, South Providence and Washington Park community libraries and will run until July.

“There’s something for everyone,” said Latino Program Coordinator Carolina Briones. “The workshops are an excellent way to explore all the free resources offered at the Providence Community Libraries.” 

Below are the workshops being held through July 2022:

Latin Dancing – Bachata/Salsa with Adriana Londono

May 12 – July 9, 6 – 7:30pm 
Providence Community Library – Washington Park 
1316 Broad Street, PVD

Sewing Workshop

May 17 – June 21, 5:30 – 7:00 pm 
Providence Community Library – Mount Pleasant
315 Academy Ave, PVD

For more information, visit communitylibrariespvd.org

Discover the beauty of Asian Dance and Music at Sounds of Korea in PVD

Sunday, August 14, 4 – 9 pm 
Bishop McVinney Auditorium
43 Dave Gavitt Way, PVD

This year, the Korean American Association of RI has a lot in store for its Korea Day Celebration, to commemorate Victory Day on August 15.

Sounds of Korea will showcase Korea’s finest cuisine and performance art at the Bishop McVinney Auditorium.

Admission and food are free for attendees, thanks to generous grants from the RI State Council of the Arts, Expansion Arts Program, Overseas Koreans Foundation and Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Boston.

Korean American Association of RI Director Angela Sharkey is very excited about the upcoming event. “This is the first time we are doing an event of this scale,” she said. “Before this, we did a few smaller events in the community.”

Sounds of Korea will feature performances from Korean traditional dancer Eunjoo Kang and Korean traditional musician Jung-Hee Oh. 

For more information, visit rikorean.org.

Featured Contributor May 2022: LuzJennifer Martinez

Where there were books, libraries and music cassettes, that’s where you would find LuzJennifer Martinez as a kid, growing up in the inner city of Providence. Her passion for reading Babysitters Club books and writing in journals (while listening to some good tunes of course) led her to Rhode Island College for a BA in English (with a Communications minor), which she completed in 2008.

In 2013, she received an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Shortly before attending graduate school, LuzJennifer was a freelance reporter for Providence En Español newspaper. She’s also written for What’s News at Rhode Island College, In the Fray Magazine, and The Music Development Agency.

Her personal blog, The Fearless Wordsmith, was launched in 2016 and she currently publishes opinion pieces and essays on Medium. When she’s not writing up a storm of fiction and non-fiction, LuzJennifer works as a full-time inside sales representative for Evolis, a French ID card printer manufacturer.

Additionally, LuzJennifer serves on the BIPOC Advisory Council at What Cheer Writer’s Club and is the Founder/Organizer of Diverse Voices of RI, a creative writing group that fosters inclusivity for writers of all races, backgrounds, and perspectives to speak their truth through the written word and connect. She would also love to start advocacy work for either RAINN or a related local organization in the near future.

When she needs to take a breather, LuzJennifer watches funny videos, dances Salsa in her living room, drinks ridiculous amounts of tea, likes to people watch, chases her cat, creates humongous Spotify playlists, sits in cafes for hours to have more tea, taps into her emo side, and is into everything self-development. Writing for Motif is a dream, she says, so please don’t wake her up!

Nothin’ But Good Scent-iments: Providence Perfume Co conducts a symphony of natural essences

After speaking with Charna Ethier, owner of the Providence Perfume Co in Pawtucket, Motif learned that music and perfume have more in common than we realized. Making great perfume can be like music for your nostrils, with intonations and layers that unravel one whiff at a time.

“Perfumery is a mysterious art, but when you consider formulation, everything is based on evaporation rate. This is how we classify ingredients as top, heart, or base notes,” Ethier said. 

She explained how top notes show up as the most volatile projection when a perfume is first sprayed, but evaporate the quickest. 

“Examples of top notes are typically citrus and herbs like bergamot, basil, and pink grapefruit,” she said.

Then there are middle notes, which fill up the air once the top notes have dissipated. 

“Heart notes truly form the heart of a fragrance and are typically floral or fruity notes,” Ethier said.

Base notes are the materials that last the longest in a perfume, most notably that lingering trace of a scent you’ve been wearing all day. 

“Base notes form the foundation of a fragrance and are typically woods and resins. Examples are sandalwood, patchouli, and labdanum,” she said.

Ethier has been in the business of concocting natural perfume scents for years, soaking up her knowledge from perfumery books while also playing it by ear as a self-taught perfumer.

Like every labor of love, Ethier created the Providence Perfume Co for two very specific reasons – to foster her lifelong passion for the aromas of nature and cater to those looking for natural fragrances.

Growing up on a farm kept Ethier drawn to the luscious smells of the great outdoors. “I love the smell of blackberry bushes and pine needles and the air before it rains,” she said.

“It made sense for me to pull inspiration from plants and flowers, not petrochemicals.”

Today, Providence Perfume Co is in full bloom with an array of perfume oils and fragrances, which patrons also have the option of custom-creating at the shop’s perfume bar. 

Customers book an appointment for an hour-long lesson to create either an oil-based perfume that rolls on or an alcohol-based fragrance that sprays on. 

They receive guidance from Providence Perfume Co staff while creating their custom scent, choosing the best notes, adding essences to the beaker, and testing the progress of their new fragrance with scent strips.

Once concocted, the custom perfume formulas are kept on file at the Providence Perfume Co for those who want a refill later. When it comes to customer favorites, Ethier’s Irisque takes the prize. 

“Irisqué is a best seller,” she said. “It’s a risqué iris fragrance! Most iris perfumes tend to smell like old-fashioned powdery violets, but not ours. I wanted to make a sexy, modern iris perfume, so I added notes of oud and botanical musk to deepen the fragrance.”

Other botanical scents sold at the shop include Sedona Sweetgrass (made with pinon pine, sweetgrass, and sage), Hindu Honeysuckle (a combination of green vetiver, musk ambrette, rose, and coriander), and Rose Boheme (a bohemian scent with rich aged patchouli, fir, tea, agarwood, saffron, Turkish rose, and an artisan rose petal infusion). Along with treatment and body oils, Providence Perfume Co also sells organic perfumed teas that invigorate your senses with each sip.

Ethier and the Providence Perfume Co stand out from other perfumers by focusing solely on natural essences, perfect for those with chemical sensitivities to traditional synthetic fragrances. 

“[People] don’t realize that the fragrances they wear are 96-100% synthetic and contain little to NO natural essences,” she said. “I create beautiful, long-lasting fragrances that just so happen to be all-natural.”

Ethier is a pro at juggling the art of perfumery with the business aspect by simultaneously working on customer requests and passion projects that artistically speak to her.

Her unisex, woodsy Heart of Darkness scent began as a passion project that she knew wouldn’t be as popular but allowed her to create a “mothy, foresty” scent by distilling espresso beans and mixing in floral notes.

“My focus as a perfumer is on the scent – does it take you on a journey? How does it make you feel? Having an aromatherapy effect is secondary to the [actual] scent,” Ethier said.

She looks forward to launching a new scent later this fall, a unisex, smoked, black tea perfume called Lapsang Lover. “I found the most beautiful black tea absolute distilled in France and I’m excited to work with this natural essence,” she said.

In the meantime, stop into Providence Perfume Co’s new facility at 80 Fountain Street, Unit 203 in Pawtucket to treat your nose to the luscious symphony of essences found in Ethier’s all-natural fragrances. 

For more information, call (401) 455-2325 or email info@providenceperfume.com.