‘It’s a return to somewhat normalcy’: Waterfire plans to start season in September

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Waterfire hasn’t lit the rivers in Providence since November of 2019, but that changes in September when the non-profit organization is planning to start its 2021 season.

The pandemic halted the 2020 season which managing director Peter Mello said was in the works.

“We were working on a plan earlier last year to try to make Waterfire happen and unfortunately numbers spiked so we had to put that on hold, but we’re super excited to come back now and hopefully bring a lot of tourists back to Providence.”

Mello said the organization is on target to launch the season on Labor Day Weekend, with full and partial lightings planned throughout the end of the year.

“I think it’s an indication that it’s a return to somewhat normalcy,” Mello said. “People are dying to do things.”

The non-profit focused on its Waterfire Arts Center on Valley Street in Providence for the last year, putting on more than 250 live, in-person art experiences. But Mello said they still longed for nights on the river.

“We’ve kept busy on that front, but we’ve been dying to get back down to the river and bring people back to Providence.”

The 2021 season almost didn’t happen after Waterfire saw a 95% drop in operating revenue.

“In 2020, we had projected $22 million in corporate sponsorship which is a fairly typical year. We ended up only recording $50,000 in sponsorship.”

Luckily, Waterfire was able to secure $700,000 to put this year’s event on.

The Providence City Council allocated $300,000 in federal funding to Waterfire and the state contributed $300,000. Mello said a family foundation stepped in with an additional $100,000.

But that money is only to put on the 2021 season, and while they’re planning on putting on Waterfire in 2022, Mello said it’s up in the air without the funding.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that the money we got from the city and the state is money to put on Waterfire this fall solely, and Waterfire’s long-term sustainability is still very much at risk and uncertain so we do need support – corporate support through sponsorship and individual support through donations to kind of continue on.

“We’re a very scrappy, resilient non-profit organization. We survived through this pandemic and we’re gonna continue to scrap. We wouldn’t have existed without CARES Act funding last year, and this funding is helping us kind of give us a longer runway to figure out our future but it’s been a long time coming and we’re super excited to get people back on the river.”

A press conference is planned for Wednesday night where the dates for the 2021 season will be announced.

© WLNE-TV 2021

Categories: News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island