May 13 -- Cultural Content
Dear Friends,

Last Saturday PPL was alive with the sound of cellos (and many other instruments), as we hosted the 2023 PVD Cello Fest, in which musicians of all ages participated in performances, workshops, and jam sessions throughout the Library. Cello Fest founder Zan Berry, who worked with fellow cellists Kamyron Williams and Isabel Castellvi on this year’s iteration, shared his thoughts about being in PPL’s spaces for the day: "We really enjoyed our partnership with PPL for the 2023 PVD Cello Fest! The Donald J. Farish Auditorium was an ideal acoustical spot for presenting cello music and we appreciated the flexibility of utilizing the Seminar Room and the Mural Room for our more interactive workshop and old-time jam session. Closing out the day by performing in the upstairs lobby was also a nice way to break down the audience-performer barriers, spark some curiosity, and get the cello conversations started!" 
That closing performance found us sitting in the open area outside the Auditorium, amid a lively crowd of all ages, listening avidly as 10 cellists, two electric bass guitarists, one accordionist, one mandolinist (who later switched to cello, so make that 11 cellists), one violinist, one vocalist, and one drummer all playing in and among the rapt listeners performed Terry Riley’s 1964 piece In C. Visible above the heads of several musicians were the wall text for our current exhibition, Picturing the Pandemic: Images from the Pandemic Journaling Project and the Rhode Island COVID-19 Archive and several of the intricate paper mache creatures from Eli Nixon’s three-story floating installation Bloodtide. It was remarkable to think back to the many, many months of our massive renovation, when this area had been a dusty site of demolition and slow reinvention, and then to the first year of the pandemic, when the entire floor had remained closed to the public empty, silent, and still and then to take a moment to quietly celebrate the fact that all of these community-centered and communally created projects were now physically in place, sharing space with one another, and defining and animating what had been for so long merely an expanse of hoped-for possibility. Our new building is proving to be not only a site of, but also a spur to creative endeavor, and we are grateful to the many community members who have helped us to realize its potential.
PHOTOS: Danni Goulet
Who Has a Seat at the Table?
Last week we also hosted a delicious opening reception, with food from Asia Grille, for guest curator Aaron Castillo’s exhibition Who Has a Seat At the Table?, featuring artwork by Dana Heng and Nafis M. White. Aaron worked with PPL’s Special Collections team on this collaborative exhibition, which incorporates themes of public memory and legacy informed by the ceremonial act of gathering for a shared meal. He takes a close look at five displaced communities of Providence: the Narragansett Tribe, Colonial Black Heritage, Chinatown, Lippitt Hill, and Fox Point, and, more broadly, considers BIPoC influence on the dynamic food history of Providence, building upon the ways that we honor and pay homage to the lives who once occupied – and still occupy – areas in the city.

A recent graduate from Brown University, where he studied food and identity, Aaron sought to showcase how public history takes shape despite the colonial impositions of redlining, urban renewal, demolition, and erasure. While he had never been in an archive before, for this project he began with a deep dive into PPL’s Special Collections, where he noticed the lack of information on Emmanuel “Manna” Burnoon, an oyster house owner who was previously enslaved. Aaron says that most of his research involved sifting through the Rhode Island Collections and asking questions: “Why were communities displaced? What happened? Who did it? Why did they do it? And so often, right? These answers aren't in the history books, intentionally.” 

PPL’s Research and Outreach Librarian for Special Collections, Angela DiVeglia, who worked closely with Aaron through his research phase, explains that “Special Collections are available for anyone to come use in our Reading Room you don't need to be a scholar nor working on a special project. As archivists, we try hard to notice and acknowledge the gaps in our collections what's there, what isn't there, and what does that tell us about collecting and history-building practices of the past? Noticing what's missing can also tell a story. Are there ways we can address or repair those gaps moving forward? We invite all kinds of researchers to use our collections as part of their own remembering and as a way to tell forgotten or hidden stories; Aaron's research is a great example of this.”

Aaron’s desire for an exhibition was rooted in his wish to create a space “representative of the real histories of the people who inhabit this city.” In talking with him, you can hear the deeply intimate process of not just working within the archives, but also in establishing relationships and trust with the folks whose stories he was holding and navigating.
“I think the biggest memory is when I went to one of the interviews, Mat Santos; he grew up in Fox Point, is Cape Verdean, and has always lived there. He went to Italy for the army, married his wife there, and then came back. Micki was lovely, and Mat invited me into their home to talk to me. When I was there, she was offering me food the entire time; it reminded me of my own family, because I sat there for an hour and a half, and I had espresso, and I had cookies, and then chocolate… and then she asked, “Do you want to stay for dinner?” And I was like, “I don't have to.” But it was moments like that, I think, where I was really appreciative. And it was the biggest, heartwarming thing for me, in doing this entire process, because it showed how food was so important in making these connections with people and ensuring that I wasn't just the researcher and they were the interviewee. We were friends, and we were going to have a relationship that lasted much longer than this.”

Aaron points out that the process of this work is not one where an individual transfers information to the public, but rather one of asking, how we can take what is lacking in history and organize to celebrate these capacious stories alongside communities, archivists, artists, and elders? It’s also not about closing the narrative. “You leave the curiosity and the ending open for interpretation, or for other people, right? That keeps people interested, and that leaves more to be told. But when you end something, that's it. And so I think a lot of this exhibit was me grappling with the fact that I won't have all the information, and that's okay, and maybe someone else will, 150 years from now. That's the whole point, right? It's to be a starting point for people who have been doing this work or want to do this work.”

Don’t forget to check out the exhibition before May 31, and the video below to learn more about the project! In local happenings, Aaron suggests supporting and checking out events at Stages of Freedom and the Tomaquag Museum, as well as keeping an eye out for The Annual Cape Verdean Celebration in Fox Point, and the The Snowtown Project with an event coming up next week
And while you’re at the Library, we invite you to check out the newly installed exhibition May Is Mental Health Month Art Show, on view May 13 - 26 in the book stacks on the Ground Floor! The exhibition features artwork by first through twelfth grade students at the Eleanor Briggs School, a program of Thrive Behavioral Health (TBH). TBH has provided community-based mental health and substance use treatment to clients of all ages and insurance status, regardless of their ability to pay, for over 45 years, and is the state's designated Community Mental Health Center for Kent County; the Eleanor Briggs School has been recognized as a leader in the field of special education and children’s mental health since 1980. 

PHOTO: Eleanor Briggs School staff members just after installing the May Is Mental Health Month exhibition (L to R): Art Teacher/Clinical Supervisor Nora Brennan, Marketing & Communications Manager Haley Andrews, Director of Development Jessica Lachey.

We hope to see you soon!

In gratitude,

Christina Bevilacqua xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSophia Ellis
Programs & Exhibitions Director xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxCommunity Partnerships Facilitator