The mission of the Root’s Cultural Center is to create a vibrant sense of place in the capital city of Providence where art, culture, and entertainment, of the finest quality, will serve as the basis to bring diverse people together, provoke thought, inspire hope, create broad community understanding in support of the artistic programming of the Providence Inner City Arts, Inc.
PROVIDENCE INNER CITY ARTS (PICA), A HISTORY
Providence Inner City Arts (PICA) was founded more than 40-years ago by a socially committed group of artists who were driven by the vision of making arts programming accessible to the diverse working communities in Providence. They organized grassroots fundraising efforts and through the generosity of private businesses and individuals, were able to produce events and workshops. In 1978 PICA received 501(c)3 nonprofit status which allowed them to secure government funding through the NEA, RISCA, City of Providence Parks Department, Vista, and CETA.
PICA was well known for its community programming, which included theater and outdoor festivals at venues throughout Providence. Some of the most popular events were concert series in Burnside Park. These events brought the arts to the working community in the Old Jewelry District in Providence, as the programs would begin in the late afternoon when factory workers were leaving work.
“Jazz on a Sunday” at the John Brown House lawn was another event PICA organized for many years. A diverse group of listeners came with blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy local and regional musicians. This event gave birth to the Langston Hughes Center for the Arts “Jazz On The Grass” series. For three years we presented “The History of Jazz,” a summer long program of more than seven large jazz concerts, from a “Jazz Cruise on the Bay Queen” to the widely acclaimed “History of the Celebrity Club,” which also included a luncheon where we interviewed the owner of the club, Paul Felipe. PICA’s “Salute to Children,” was a free festival held in Roger Williams Park on weekday mornings so that inner city schools could walk or bus their students to participate in the performing arts. These workshops helped launch the careers of storytellers/performers Marc Levitt, Bill Harley as well as Len Cabral.
In the 80s, the Inna City Solarium, a used furniture store owned and managed by Len Cabral and Terry Cannon became the home of PICA. Meetings and events such as poetry readings and children’s art shows drew artists, educators and families. PICA also organized community workshops in mime, clowning, and face painting, and brought these performances to schools, parks and public libraries across the state. Bringing the performing arts to senior centers allowed PICA to reach older audiences hungry for the arts.
One of PICA’s most successful reoccurring community events was the Florentine Fair. The Inna City Solarium was where the idea for the Florentine Faire was conceived, planned and executed by a committee of volunteers. The Florentine Faire was the most colorful and culturally diverse festival in the state through the 70′s into the mid 80′s. Volunteers made the festival possible – building sets, sewing costumes, painting signs and carrying staging.
There was no paid staff of PICA initially. If profits were made after events, people were compensated a small sum for the time they put in. People volunteered to do this work because they wanted to be part of something that fed their souls and enriched their lives. In the early 80′s PICA rented an office in the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC), hired grant writers and its’ first full time director.
Eventually PICA bought a large abandoned apartment house on the corner of Portland and Pine on the south side of Providence. We had plans drawn and were in the process of turning it into an Art’s Center located in one of the poorest areas in the city when the building was burned to the ground along with all our staging, props and other supplies.
With the Roots Café, PICA has seized an opportunity to provide the people of our capital city and state with a culturally enriching venue; a place where people from all walks of life will come to be engaged, entertained and educated. We hope you will join us.