AS220 is an enduring treasure in the Providence arts community.
Whether the “AS” stands in your mind for “”Alternative Space,” “Artists Space,” “Arts Space” or “Artists Studios” (the “220” stands for their original 1985 address on Weybosset Street), the imagination station currently located at 95-121 Empire Street has established itself as an institution across a wide range of creative pursuits.
Founded initially by Umberto Crenca — alongside Susan Clausen and Scott Seabolt — AS220 was a location for artists looking for an unjuried and uncensored space to exhibit outside what they perceived as preferential treatment for the RISD crowd. In 1992 they found their own 21,000 foot non-profit multi-use space on Empire Street, which currently houses four dozen artist live/work studios, individual work studios, six rotating exhibition spaces, a main stage, a black box theater, a dance studio, a print shop, a community darkroom, a digital media lab, a fabrication lab, an organization-run bar and restaurant, a youth recording studio and a youth program (AS220 Youth).
The key takeaway in that impressive resume is “non-profit.” Therein lies the basis for their annual Foo Fest, taking place from 1pm to 1am on Saturday, August 18.
“Foo Fest is AS220’s major annual fundraising event and has its roots in the Fools Ball,” explains AS220 communications director, David Dvorchak. “The Fool’s Ball — also a fundraiser — was a week’s worth of events including, but not limited to, a three-story house party at AS220, a marching mob parade through the city’s downtown, live performances and sometimes even off-site events.”
From 1995 to 2004, the Fool’s Ball served as AS220’s biggest fundraising event. However, in 2005, as the space was celebrating their 20th anniversary of serving the greater Rhode Island arts community, they decided to instead present the 20 Fest block party. For a small non-profit arts staff to pull off a weeklong event was admittedly a challenge.
“I’m not sure what the exact rationale was for switching from a week-long event to a one-day one, but I’d guess that Fools Ball just became too taxing on the organization,” explains Dvorchak. “20 Fest was basically the first Foo Fest, though not branded as such.”
So, from 2006 to the present — with the exception of 2008 when the Fools Ball was inexplicably reprised — the Foo Fest has been an annual summer tradition, one that Dvorchak has obvious affection for, despite the long hours of being on Empire Street on what promises to be a warm summer day.
“It’s gone from a more traditional fundraiser into a unique, distinctly AS220, and all-around accessible affair for all people to come to downtown Providence, check out and immerse themselves in the awesome creative community that’s happening here and all that is has to offer,” he enthuses.
And that certainly would include something for everyone.
“I look forward to everything, honestly!” Dvorchak says. “This year, I’m really excited about Live Pro(v) Wrestling, the Rainbow Beard Show, seeing Pippi Zornoza’s Rectrix performance and all of the amazing visuals that our artist in residence, Keri King, has designed and all of the family-friendly activities that she’s collaborating with various artists on! I’m also really looking forward to having a nice cold beer sometime between the hours of 2 and 3am once everything has been cleaned up and put away.”
Prior to that cold libation, though, he’ll have the opportunity to enjoy two top-notch headlining acts. Prominent female MC, Rah Digga, known for her involvement with Busta’ Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad as well as her own forays into rap and acting will perform, as well as influential alternative act, Pere Ubu, playing one of only two announced American dates before heading for European dates.
“Booking Pere Ubu and Rah Digga was realized through the tireless efforts of our live arts director, Jacob Nathan, who is responsible for booking all of the musical acts for Foo Fest,” Dvorchak credits. “He also seeks out recommendations from staff, but ultimately it’s up to him.”
Ticket prices are remarkably reasonable and are available in advance for a discount or on the day of the event. There is also a $25 ticket available online in advance. The price on this ticket is in honor of their 25th anniversary on Empire Street and will allow AS220 to make facility upgrades as well as help the organization’s $5M “All Access” fundraising campaign. Kids under the age of 10 gain free admission, as do much appreciated volunteers who, in addition to gaining access to a full day of arts programming, can collect a free drink and commemorative patch for a 3-hour shift.
And, what of this name for the event? No, it doesn’t have anything to do with Dave Grohl’s iconic post Nirvana outfit.
“I’ve heard that people were having trouble coming up with the name of the event that was going to be the follow-up to 20 Fest,” Dvorchak explains. “21 Fest just doesn’t have the same ring to it. So, Shawn Wallace, who was our managing director at the time, decided to use the term ‘Foo’, which in computer and hacker culture is a generic place-holder term for anything.
“Plus, ‘Foo’ doesn’t sound that far removed from ‘Fools,’ and ‘Foo Fest’ just rolls off of the tongue rather nicely, doesn’t it?” he asks.
No argument here.
Foo Fest takes place Saturday, August 18 on Empire Street in PVD from 1pm – 1am. For more info, please visit: foofest.as220.org/about-foo-fest
Read more of our Foo Fest coverage here: