First created by Evans in 1994 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence, WaterFire has grown to become an annual public art phenomenon.
WaterFire is simultaneously a free public art installation, a performance work, an urban festival, a civic ritual and a spiritual communal ceremony. Well known nationally and internationally as a community arts event, WaterFire’s symbolism and interpretation is both inclusive and expansive - reflecting the recognition that individuals must act together to strengthen and preserve their community.
On WaterFire evenings, downtown Providence is transformed by one hundred bonfires that burn just above the surface of the three rivers that pass through the middle of downtown Providence in Waterplace Park (the Woonasquatucket, Moshassuck, and Providence rivers). The public is invited to come and walk the riverfront, and enjoy the beauty of the flickering firelight, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the changing silhouettes of the volunteer firetenders, and the music from around the world – each of which engages the senses and emotions of all who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park.
Average attendance is 40,000 a night, ranging from 10,000 to 100,000. WaterFire is presented for free, with only ten percent of the funds needed to host WaterFire acquired through governmental means and the remainder coming from private and corporate donations.
WaterFire Providence is the independent 501(C)(3) non-profit arts organization responsible for presenting WaterFire. WaterFire Providence consists of about 15 staff members and relies heavily upon volunteers for the production of WaterFire. On a given night, up to 160 volunteers make the entire event possible.
Barnaby Evans created First Fire on New Year’s Eve 1994 for the tenth anniversary of First Night Providence. First Fire consisted of 11 braziers on steel tripods stretching from WaterPlace Basin to Steeple Street. In June 1996, Barnaby created Second Fire for the Convergence Art Festival and the International Sculpture Conference.
Through the support of dedicated volunteers, WaterFire returned as a seasonal event. WaterFire gained regional attention and a coordinated effort to fund the project began. In 1997, WaterFire expanded to 42 braziers, and had an estimated attendance of 350,000 people over the entire season. Barnaby Evans received The Renaissance Award for his effort to revitalize downtown Providence, and WaterFire became the symbol of the city’s renaissance.
For the 1998 installation, WaterFire expanded to include 81 fires, with expansions up the Moshassuck River and into the basin at WaterPlace Park. WaterFire now enjoyed national and international renown. Recently, attendance has increased from thousands to millions of visitors, with crowds reaching nearly two million per season.
- In June 1998 Barnaby Evans installed WaterFire in Houston, Texas on the Buffalo Bayou.
- In July 2005 Barnaby Evans designed a WaterFire installation in Columbus, Ohio, called WaterFire Columbus. http://www.waterfirecolumbus.com
- In 2007, Barnaby Evans created a new installation in Kansas City, Missouri on Brush Creek near Country Club Plaza and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art http://www.visitkc.com/waterfire.
- "Three Rhode Islanders are Among Seven to be Honored by the Nation's Governors for Distinguished Service to States". State of Rhode Island. June 29, 2010.
- WaterFire website
- Washington Post travel article by Carlo Rotella
- The Butterfly Effect blog entry about WaterFire
- thisplaceiknow.com entry for WaterFire