WaterFire Providence – Challenge Semi-Finalist

A view of the WaterFire installation in Providence.

Our adaptive challenge

Because WaterFire has historically relied on corporate sponsorships, which have become more challenging to secure, we will develop a new revenue model that will engage a wider group of stakeholders and beneficiaries to participate in stewardship programs that preserve, protect and reinvest in WaterFire so that it can continue to create even greater economic and cultural impacts for the community. In its simplest form, our adaptive challenge is overcoming the attitude that WaterFire is a public good and mitigate the free rider effect where benefiting organizations leave the support to someone else. While it is unrealistic to think that we will get everyone to contribute, our goal is to significantly increase the participation rate.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

Today’s world is keenly competitive for limited resources and only organizations that adapt will thrive and survive. WaterFire has a 19 year proven track record of creatively transforming Providence, making its residents proud of their City and inspiring visitors from around the world to come and experience the artwork. Feeling good about one’s “place” is a critical first step in an economy’s recovery. We recently received prestigious program grants from ArtPlace and the National Endowment for the Arts as well as significant capital investments from the City and State for a new property. Now is the perfect time to work with stakeholders to develop an operational revenue model that will sustain WaterFire’s impacts long into the future.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

Over the past 20 years, WaterFire Providence has relied heavily on a single source of revenue: corporate sponsorship. Unfortunately, Providence, Rhode Island is a small city which, like many others over the past decade, has seen corporations merge, downsize, relocate or close. Despite this shrinking pool of potential corporate sponsors, we have been able to continue to bring public art to the community and be an economic driver in the process. However, each year it becomes more and more difficult to build a program around locally based business support, and sadly, this trend does not appear to be changing anytime soon. Our foundational assumption of having corporate support for WaterFire is threatened by challenges from Rhode Island’s economy.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

Each year, it becomes more and more difficult to identify and successfully recruit and secure corporations who are willing and able to sponsor WaterFire. Many of the relatively small cohort of companies remaining in Rhode Island are facing their own tough economic and operational challenges and have limited budgets from which to support marketing opportunities and philanthropic needs in the community. Additionally, individual giving patterns have significantly changed, with more and more activity moving online. Nonprofit organizations have to become much more entrepreneurial in their outlook and execution of their mission. Organizations with flexible, adaptable and responsive business models thrive and survive in today’s challenging economy.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

A new predictor of success would be an entirely new funding model that would start with tapping into the significant economic value we create for various industry segments. This would include collaborating with beneficiaries of WaterFire, such as the hospitality industry, and engaging them in examining ways to reinvest in the event so that it can continue to create significant economic and cultural impacts for their businesses and the community. These groups can then join us in approaching state economic development officials about funding models tied directly into the comprehensive tax revenues generated by WaterFire or some other predictable, sustainable source of funds that would allow planning and maximization of opportunities.

Our vision of success

Our vision of success includes:

  1. overcoming the public good/free rider effect that threatens our organization’s sustainability,
  2. developing a business model that has new, diversified revenue streams captured from the incredible value WaterFire creates for a wide range of beneficiaries many of whom can afford to reinvest at appropriate levels in the artwork, and
  3. producing more public art events that add vibrancy and economy to the community, thus building upon our 19 year proven track record.

Our vision of success also includes continuing to offer an admission-free, world class public art experience to visitors and residents alike that helps make Providence a great place to live, work and visit.

A view of the audience watching the WaterFire installation in Providence.
A view of the audience watching the WaterFire installation in Providence.
WaterFire's mission is to inspire Providence and her visitors by revitalizing the urban experience, fostering community engagement and creatively transforming the city. Our art installation stretches on the rivers that run through Providence, and we collaborate with artists and community organizations in offering a free public art event for the entire community.

  • linda

    i love Waterfire.
    it is this century’s peace movement, among other things. how can you feel any animosity when you are looking at fires burning, sending spearks into the night sky while gorgeous music plays all around you?
    thank you, Barnaby Evans!!

    • Linda, thanks for your positive words and support. This is one of our goals. We want to give visitors the opportunity to slow down and take a brake from the hustle and bustle of their daily routines, be contemplative, and enjoy being in the city with friends and strangers all being part of WaterFire in unity.


  • K Baker

    Waterfire is a wonderful addition to Providence’s downtown. It is visually beautiful, with inspiring music in a family environment. Our friends come from all over to visit, have dinner downtown and spend a great evening strolling along the river watching Waterfire.

  • I, too, love WaterFire and appreciate the comment that it is this century’s peace movement. It does draw us together beautifully

  • sophia m

    OMG! We’re at 23% of the votes today in the Semi-Final Challenge! C’mon everybody, cast your vote daily, like me! We MUST win this prize….WaterFire embodies everything this competition even stands for. Let’s do it together, for Providence, for our children, for all of US…we must keep the fires burning…Please vote daily and we WILL win! You’ve got to be passionate about THE ARTS!!!!

  • roberta

    Waterfire is such a beautiful serene event not to be missed. Gives you an evening of feeling peace for a little while in this crazy world. Friends & family come from all around to visit for this wonderful event.

  • Joan Slafsky

    People used to kick sand in my face and say I was a runt like the state I lived in.
    Ever since WaterFire all the guys line up to give me high-fives and say how lucky I am to live in a cool state like Rhode Island! And I stand a lot taller too!

    Joan S.

    • SCP

      Oh noooo. Sand in your face, give them some hot embers on their toes. They will jump high with those high-fives Joan.

  • Patti Welcher

    I have friends visit from all over the country and several from other countries and while they enjoy many attractions in New England, Waterfire is overwhelmingly the favorite. We generally have dinner in the city, enjoy different street performers… Waterfire is a feast for the senses. It leaves people with a sense of peace and serenity.

  • I love the enthusiasm and hope that it translates into votes for one of the singular events that distinguishes Providence

  • marnie degregorio

    Waterfire is exceptional and touches your five senses. Awesome and overwhelming at the same time.

  • Joan Slafsky

    Going to WaterFire is like last day of school and start of summer vacation and seeing the kids again – because now they and their kids want to come home-and hearing from all of our old friends because they want to know the schedule so they can come to Rhode Island for their summer vacation! It’s like mountain climbing and scuba diving -and first day of baseball season rolled into one-And makes me feel happy to live in Providence Rhode Island where all the cool people want to support WaterFire!
    Thank you Barnaby and all the wonderful volunteers!

    Joan S.

  • Madeline Catania

    I love the waterfires. They are .my favorite place to go. I am an armature photographer and enjoy capturing the excitement at the waterfires along with the fires themselves. I look forward to the different themes each month. They are truly a spectacular site.

  • Tom

    In the past you have paid performers and artists to incorporate their art into WaterFire. To avoid paying for these performers directly you could make it a public voted competition sponsored by the community (businesses and other donners). Make it simple for people to vote and share the experience to create a conversation about what Is actually happening artistically. WaterFire was once an senior art project and now has become focused less on the art because of various reasons and I think we should bring that back in a creative way. My idea is inspired by experiencing ArtPrize in Grand Rapids Michigan. The conversation about art is the focus and its a sustainable business model because the entire community is engaged not only economically but intellectualy. I’m not saying you need the biggest prize in the world but people talk when they think they are apart of every aspect of the art.

    • SCP

      This is a great idea Tom. I like it. Do you care to set up a volunteer commitee to get it in the works. Your idea, your chair. Perhaps we can do this and then present to Mr. Evans in full. I am quite sure he has his hands full. Just saying. You know where to find me at WaterFire Providence of course. Nearby statue on S. Main Street with costumed mimes.

  • Jessica Marie Paiva

    Been a volunteer for WaterFire since 2012 and this special event has been a life changing experience for me! I highly recommend volunteering or just attending one of the many special waterfire event(s)…you will see why! :)

  • Sarah Roche

    WaterFire is one of the most innovative events for Providence and the delightful little,in size only, state of RI. I am proud to volunteer and happy to introduce this magic to friends and family. Barnaby Evans you are the consummate artist!

  • Ken St. Amour

    WaterFire Providence is the perfect marriage of Fire, Water, Music……and People. Its the most enchanting experience in all of Providence,the northeast and perhaps the world.

    • SCP


  • Joe “Ski” Pomoransky

    I am a 68 year old retired, disabled, Marine. I have attended around 300 WaterFires since 1994. I will attend as many as I’m able to in the future.
    I’m not afraid to admit there are times I will close my eyes to relish my senses with the sounds and aroma of the crackling fires, and soothing music, all which brings peace and serenity to my heart, mind and being, sometimes a tear will roll down from the corner of my eyes.

    Thank You Barnaby, Staff and Volunteers For These Wonderful Experiences.

    Semper Fi

    • SCP

      Hey Joe, reply for you awaits. Scroll down ↓↓↓.

  • KathieO’Donnell

    I have loved and supported Waterfire for years.It is so unique and positive.

  • SCP

    Hey Joe, let’s meet up this Saturday for Waterfire. I have the chairs, lounges, blankets for the chilly night. Meet me at the statue across from Superior Court House there on S. Main Street. I always hang over there and sit nearby enjoying the experience of Waterfire. I just love it. I am also prior military, in law enforcement and right now disable too. We can chat about anything or just sit and enjoy the silence. You are a frequent goer. I would like to meet up with like minded people.

    Sometimes a few friends may get together to discuss spiritual concepts or life perspectives. It is nice to chat and think with this type of artistic medium at the forefront of weekend experiences and the backdrop for some thought provoking chats by the river at fireside.

    Semper Fi brother

    • Gary

      If either of you ever find it difficult to experience WaterFire, check out their access boat program.

      • SCP

        Thank you, Gary. I didn’t know that. I had wondered how I could take a boat ride. Excellent info and access.

  • SCP

    Perhaps 8:00 PM. Look for the pink zebra stripes on a forearm crutch. That’s me, somewhere very close by. Stop by, say Hi, rest your feet, chat a little. Go or stay, just visit a bit.

  • Love Waterfire!!!!
    It’s one of the best events I’ve seen and had tbe pleasure to have participated.
    Have moved out of the area and miss it’s excitement and splendor.

  • Cyndy Overgaag

    I happened upon Waterfire one night when out with friends to dinner. I coerced them to call their husbands to say they would be home much later, as it was a mom’s night out from our young children. We had driven down from MA, so it was to be our wild “late” night, but so profoundly worth it.
    What is this but two elements…fire and water, oh and music to soothe the savage in us all. Brilliant and awe inspiring and primal. We are fixated by the glow as if gathered around the largest floating hearth and in the simplicity we are happy and all is well.

  • Donna

    I think Waterfire is just amazing!
    I drive from Western Mass. for the evening or spend a day at the beach and stop on our way home.
    It is such Awe evening!
    I also share with many friends!!!

  • Donna

    It is just amazing! Love it!
    I share it with all my friends .
    Something every family should do this summer!!!

  • Kelly

    We come every summer from Peoria,Il for Rhode Island camping and Waterfire. Sometimes at home we’ll be outside at the firepit and just close our eyes and imagine being there. What’s the best Island in the world – Rhode Island!

    • SCP

      Thank you for your tourism. We need wonderful visitors to our little state to help our economy. You can always erect a waterfall from the kits at Home Depot or Lowe’s, to help create a visual around your bonfire. How cool is that?

  • Nothing but love and support for WaterFire Providence and the whole crew – been that way for a very long time.

  • Cece

    Sometimes, when I try to explain Waterfire to people, they don’t get it. Then I show them a photo, and They understand and are even impressed. But, when people come to Waterfire they GET it. They are moved. Inspired. In awe. It’s meditative. It’s Soul expanding. It’s a celebration of everything good about people when they experience art, music, and beauty together.

  • Mary

    I love Waterfire. It is a wonderful experience for the soul and the senses. I think what you’re doing is great and seeking the grant is a good idea.(I am happy to vote for you!) However, I find it sad and unfortunate that you say it is difficult to get sponsors. From my experience, Waterfire brings a tremendous influx of customers for all the businesses in the area. I would think it would be easy to find sponsors among the restaurants, shops and pubs in the area, as it has been my experience that all businesses in the area – especially the restaurants and pubs – are benefiting from your efforts! Good luck with the grants.

  • Stephen Stack

    I love water fire it’s breath taking and magical. Very beautiful.

  • Katie

    Love water fire!

  • Cheryl Machado

    Such amazing Beauty!

  • SCP

    People let’s get to it. I vote everyday. Please spread the word. Please send links to your friends and follow up. At this moment 4:56 pm, Saturday, May 25th, we are only 50 votes ahead. We were well ahead 2 days ago. WHAT HAPPENED?

    We must get out the vote to win this prize!!

    C’mon people, let’s just do it.


  • Michael-Jon

    WaterFire has become a huge event and tradition for my friends, family and myself. The way it is combined with all types of music is absolutely beautiful in which it brings so many people out to our beautiful city of Providence and such much happiness and joy to all who see it !

  • Jeff Kennedy

    Waterfire has most likely saved thousands of lives by giving local pyromaniacs their fix. Studies have shown that the number of arsons in Providence has gone down considerably since it began.

  • Diana L. Johnson

    WaterFire has transformed the city and created a new way of thinking about community.

  • Mary


  • David

    We have taken our children for years. It is a WONDERFUL evening for the whole family! Last year, we were invited to tour the river in one of the boats, Water Fire took on a whole different feeling being on the water. It is a MUST see for sure.

  • Frank Giffurd

    All of the organizations listed here deserve the very best, that is clear. I remember attending the very first WaterFire many years ago when Providence was considered a lowly place. Providence has risen from the flames and ashes of this transformative event. Must be seen to be believed. Best of luck with further pursuits.

  • Heather piña

    I love how providence has changed over the years.. I am so glad we have activities downtown during the summer. It reminds me of all the fun I had growing upi I the 80’s..thank you :)

  • SCP

    Gary, thanks once more. I went to WaterFire on Saturday. It was chilly and damp but still wonderful. I met volunteers Andrea and Alex near boat dock for handicap access. I talked to both lovely people and I was thrilled to found out how access works and where to load. I can not wait till the next full lighting to enjoy myself on the river. Because of you I will enjoy myself even more. A big thanks to you.


    • SCP

      Andrea and Alex, it was a pleasure talking with you Saturday night about handicap access. I am so glad you took the moments to talk to me about the program and answered my many questions and concerns. It was a chilly, damp, dark night but I was on a WaterFire mission of enjoyment. You two were the wonderful ‘nightcaps’ at midnight to end my journey.

  • Linda Martin

    I am from Easton, Pa and I truly love WaterFire. I never had so much fun. This was the last thing I got to do with my sister Shirley Burrows before she died of Cancer. I came there again and my niece Pamela and I were going to do something special that one year to Remember my sister and her mother but you had the storm and it was canceled. I will back for sure to watch this. It is truly amazing. Thank You so much WaterFire Linda Martin, Easton, Pa

  • valerie machado


  • Lucu

    Great time !!

  • valerie machado



    it has brought much business to the state, the government should help. instead of half of the things that they do.
    it is great

  • Bill S

    Waterfire is as much of summer as are books at the beach and brats. We love attending as many as we can and relaxing the day’s worries away. Keep it up, keep it strong. We love it

  • I have been to Waterfire many times … and it continues to be a fun time for just me and friends or me and my family! I certainly hope it continues for my grandchildren to enjoy when they are older…they love it now…can’t imagine their future’s without it!

  • Al Gates

    The basic soul is drawn to fire, water and air.This is the most positive distraction to all of us who have witnessed Waterfire. And in the air? ..sweet music to fill that soul, and a level of awareness that brings romance to the forefront. It calls for the blossoming of change, and is the best I’ve seen so far on this planet.

  • WaterFire is a thing of such dazzling sensory beauty and originality – it is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, and it has never disappointed me on the occasions when I’ve been able to be in RI and attend the lightings. I wish there were equivalent installations in many more cities, but somehow the ambiance of downtown Providence and its wonderful architecture and the resonance of the stone bridges over the river can probably never be re-created quite as exquisitely elsewhere…

  • Barbara Azzalina

    Waterfire is a beautiful experience of music, artistry, fire, water, people, and a feeling of peace. I feel like arms are wrapped around me and all will be ok when I am there.

  • Farzaneh

    I like waterFire It is wonderful challenge and bring lots of people to visit providence for this I hope we can have
    Every week in Sumer time.

  • Rick Azzalina

    My wife and I thoroughly enjoy attending Waterfire in Providence ……its truly am amazing experience that captures your attention! The fire, the sounds, the smells and the music all combine to offer peace, enjoyment and tranquility for those seeking to temporarily forget about our busy work schedules. Just relax and enjoy a stroll along the canal or dine at one of the first class restaurants overlooking Waterfire……….

  • It is so affirming to read such support for this singularly beautiful work of art that inspires so many people. Thank you, Barnaby Evans, for your vision, and thank you, WaterFire Providence, for this present.

  • Curt – No Prov

    Waterfires has been such a great addition to Providence’s resurrection and renaissance over the years. It has brought in local residents and visitors like. It is soulful, peaceful and absolutely unique. The sights, sounds, people, dancing, music, mimes and local venders, all make for a must see. Come on down….it is definitely worth it.

  • Betsy Shea-Taylor

    Waterfire makes my heart leap like an exotic dancer!! Love you, love you!!

    A most fantastic installation in the city I cherish. My city.

  • Gary

    Sheree I am so thrilled to hear this! The access program is one of my favorite things about WaterFire and hope you enjoy the event from a whole new level, please tell anyone who has trouble getting around at the event to sign up!

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  • Lauren T

    This will be my fourth season volunteering with WaterFire Providence and I am so proud to be a small part of this wonderful organization, and I am so proud of all that they have done for the state of RI. There is nothing more beautiful and moving than seeing those fires burning and being a part of that magic.

  • Barbara Azzalina

    Waterfire is my favorite place. Providence is my birth. city. I love being there.

  • Charlotte Brown

    WaterFire is an event all Rhode Islander can point to with pride. They can also bring all their friends who come to the Ocean State to see what we have to offer. Most people are genuinely very impressed they first time they see. Most say they hhave never seen anything like it before in their lives.

    Please vote for WaterFire Thank you, Charlotte-Brown

  • Mama Spogga Hash

    We are so proud to see Waterfire all these years. and to experience the fire dancer Spogga.. He is awesome and so very proud to see him perform for this wonderful night of art and music an up-lifting event.. Keep up the wonderful work that you all put into this night.. Thank you so much.