Bringing History to Life (Eastside Monthly, March 2013)

The Providence Athenaeum

One Friday last month, a lively crowd gathered at the Providence Athenaeum on Benefit Street. Sipping wine and sherry, nibbling fresh fruit and spinach squares, they mingled and chatted. Then, in a buzz of excitement, they sat around café tables to watch three erudite lecturers shed light on a shocking art show, a scandalous ballet and a groundbreaking novel – from 1913. The subject matter dated back 100 years; the setting and format of the evening were older still. But the main draw of this salon was active engagement in the present moment.

Christina Bevilacqua, Director of Programs and Public Engagement at the historic library, began the salon series with an eye toward bringing different members of the community together to discuss history, philosophy, science and the arts. Inspired by a New York exhibit on salons through the centuries, she held the first gathering on a cold, February night in 2006. She recalls, “The topic was the history of social conversation, which is not exactly the sexiest topic in the world. I just assumed for the first few months, I was going to have to bribe my friends to come and hope that eventually it would start to catch on.”

This month in the series, the eclectic subjects range from urban planning to activism. On April 5, architect Doug Kallfelz of Union Studio, Diana Johnson of the 195 Commission, and Johnnie Chace of Greater Kennedy Plaza/ Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy discuss impending changes to Kennedy Plaza and the Jewelry District. On April 12, the RI Foundation’s Neil Steinberg talks about innovation with Kipp Bradford of Brown University’s School of Engineering. And, on April 19, photographer David H. Wells, Community Music Works’ Kimberly Young, and Yellow Peril Gallery’s Robert P. Stack explore the role of the arts in promoting social change.

Read ‘Bringing History to Life’ in full in Eastside Monthly online »