Art in Providence

Book unique experiences offered by locals in Providence.

About Art in Providence

The culture of Providence is informed by two very different sources, the locals and the academic community. Native Providence residents often trace ancestry back to of Italian, Portuguese, or Irish descent, individuals who came to the port city to work in the burgeoning industrial sector. The academic contingent flocks to Rhode Island for its wealth of higher education institutions and progressive thought. Each fall, thousands of eager students descend on the city to attend Brown University, RISD, Providence College, and Johnson & Wales, bringing their own heritage and adding to the culture. Their political thought, artistic interests, and cultural leanings blend with and enhance the city’s character.

Local Customs

The city is awash with Boston sports fans, regular church-goers, and passionate artists. While not mutually exclusive, the juxtaposition of art museums in and around once crumbling factories, and churches near chic new restaurants is a testament to the many layers of the city. WaterFire in the summer, the dancing cop during the holiday season, and the crowded Dunkin’ Donuts Center during Big East tournament play are all hallmarks of this city with a blended identity. The accent, too, is a unique distinction among regional peers.


Providence was founded in 1635 by Roger Williams, banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and seeking a refuge for religious freedom. Securing a charter for what would become the capital of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Roger Williams cultivated a positive relationship with the native Wampanoag people that allowed the city to grow slowly through the end of the century.

British incursion into Colonial maritime practices awoke the revolutionary fervor of Providence when shipping and trade was hindered by taxation and regulation. Post-Revolutionary Providence witnessed the birth of the Industrial Revolution, and a strong presence in manufacturing evolved that rendered Providence on of the nation’s largest and most powerful cities. Textiles, tools, and costume jewelry were among the main industries that endured through the mid-20th century, luring immigrants from traditionally Italian, Irish, and later Eastern European backgrounds to the city’s booming labor force.

The Great Depression, slowing manufacturing, and a damaging hurricane led to a dramatic decline in population. An effort to galvanize the city’s “Renaissance” began in the 1970’s, and culminated with the redirection of the Providence River, the construction of the Providence Mall, and the expansion of the city’s universities. Seeking a resurgence in economic activity, the city has more recently focused on innovation, particularly in efforts to link the education base with entrepreneurs.

Politics & Economy

Maritime activities, from trade to fishing, represented the largest economic activity until it was superseded by manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution. Textiles were replaced by costume jewelry manufacture and supported industries, though that too waned by the latter part of the 20th century. A new emphasis on “meds and eds”, capitalizing on the city’s concentration of higher education and innovation, has marked the city’s recent economic efforts. Financial activity is at the crux of the city's downtown district.

The predominately democratic state is run by a part-time legislature, an Independent governor, and a strong municipal presence. Each of the 39 cities and towns manages internal affairs, including independent school districts and often pension plans. Recent financial struggles has led the state to reexamine many of its entrenched practices in order to become more business friendly and to inspire more sustainable growth.

Famous People

Roger Williams (founder); Buddy Cianci (former mayor)


WaterFire (weekly outdoor festival during the summer), skating on the city's ice rink, seasonal restaurant weeks, neighborhood farmers' markets; plays at Providence Performing Arts Center and Trinity Rep, music at Lupo's or the Dunkin' Donuts Center

Best Museums

The RISD Museum, John Brown House, Providence Children's Museum, Culinary Arts Museum, Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum, Museum of Natural History and Planetarium

Holidays & Festivals

At Christmas, the city is alight with decor, especially downtown near the ice rink. St. Patrick's Day ushers in rivers of green beer and festivities, and St. Joseph's Day is celebrated with zeppoles on Federal Hill.

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