Despite budget shortfalls and an ever-evolving state-mandated gathering limit, the Pawtucket Arts Festival will go on for 10 days this September as planned. And even though organizers are struggling with pandemic-related limitations, there are plenty of fun events on the Fest schedule.
The Fest kicks off on Friday, September 4, with the unveiling of a mural by artist Jennifer Boyle-Hebda at SHRI Urban Outreach Yoga Studio. The mural was one of 10 local arts projects selected to receive funding from the annual competitive arts panel grants program offered by the City of Pawtucket. Pawtucket Arts Fest director Anthony Ambrosino said of the evening, “It will be a small celebration of the arts panel program. We’re going to celebrate with the mayor, the panel and past winners of the panel, and highlight that the city has this program in the hopes of getting even more applicants involved next year.”
The Fest and Pawtucket Restaurant Week begin in tandem, giving festival-goers an opportunity for a delicious local meal. Ambrosino hopes their tandem events will lead to a joint event in 2021. “We want to have a Taste of Pawtucket in the park where people will be able to taste items from different Pawtucket restaurants,” he said.
Also planned for this year is a virtual exhibition from Gallery 175 that highlights Pawtucket artists; view it through the end of October at gallery175.com. And don’t miss the virtual Outsider Art Show, which takes place on September 12 and featured the work of artists who are neurodiverse. For those who prefer their art more hands-on, Art in the Park, which is geared toward elementary-aged kids and includes a story, a craft and a dance party (socially distanced, of course), will take place several times throughout the festival’s 10 days. “There’s not a lot going on for kids this summer, so we’re looking forward to offering them this program,” said Ambrosino.
Live entertainment will be a major part of this year’s festivities. The living statues of TEN31 Productions will take over Slater Park, and fans can view a documentary about the organization at the Veterans Memorial Amphitheater. The amphitheater will serve as a central hub of live entertainment throughout the 10 days, with a different performer — from comedy to folk to ensemble — on stage each night. “It’s a perfect outdoor venue,” said Ambrosino.
Ambrosino is particularly excited for Mixed Magic Theatre’s Exult choir to put on two performances at the amphitheater on September 5. The choir was supposed to perform last year with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, but their performance was rescheduled and then cancelled due to fears of EEE. “It’s really exciting to be able to partner with them and put this on,” Ambrosino said.
One of the biggest draws of the Pawtucket Arts Festival, the dragon boat races, had to be cancelled this year, but the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, who helps organize the annual event, wants to keep the Taiwan Day celebration alive by planning a mini Taiwan Day celebration on the grounds of Slater Mill on September 12. After celebrating, Fest attendees can head back to their cars and check out the drive-in that will take place at Jenks Junior High.
Ambrosino recognizes the important role of the Pawtucket Arts Fest at this particular moment in time. “Art has a tremendous ability to distract people from their lives, but also allows them to highlight and interpret their experiences. Whether you want to immerse yourself in what’s happening around you or get away from it all, a festival like this allows you to choose your level of disconnection or connection.”
The Pawtucket Arts Festival takes place September 4 – 13 at various locations in Pawtucket. For more information, go to pawtucketartsfest.org. The Pawtucket Arts Festival will observe all social distancing protocol and state guidelines for gathering restrictions. Masks are required at all events.