Since 2011, the Center for Public Humanities and UPP Arts have enjoyed an on-going and many-faceted relationship. UPP Arts celebrates the history of place in communities around urban water bodies through arts and environmental education. The work of UPP Arts and their Public Humanities collaborators have focused on the Mashapaug Pond and the people who lived there.
UPP Arts Founder and Artistic Director Holly Ewald co-taught several courses with former Center staff member Anne Valk, primarily Oral History and Community Memory in which students collected oral history interviews and historical materials to document the uses of the Pond and individual interactions with it. These materials are publicly accessible through a digital archive created by Brown’s Center for Digital Scholarship.
As part of this ongoing collaboration, the Mashapaug Pond materials have generated exhibits, multimedia and online presentations. In December 2011, Reservoir of Memories: A Community Collection displayed objects and stories in a temporary exhibit and website. Reservoir of Memories was adapted into a traveling exhibit, displayed on a bus provided by the Environmental Justice League of RI and stationed at locations around the city. In 2013 students produced Mashapaug’s Neighbors: Voices from beyond the Pond, a cell phone audio tour that used stories, memories and commentaries from oral history interviews with people who care about the Pond. The tour became a part of the Rhode Tour app developed by the Center, the Rhode Island Historical Society, and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.
In a 2014 iteration, Public Humanities students worked on an installation in a park near the pond that featured “a skeletal frame of a house, representative of the homes that were once in West Elmwood. A clothesline held exhibit materials, contextualizing urban renewal in Providence and around the country. Inside the house, a six minute soundscape played excerpts form oral history interviews, telling the story of West Elmwood through the memories of those who lived there.” Later, that exhibit was redesigned for display in the Providence Public Library. Visitors to Come Sit a Spell “listened through headphones to the same oral history soundscape that had played in the previous installation.” You can read about these two exhibits in a blog posting by recent Public Humanities MA student, Amelia Grabowski, here.
Most recently, students in the Digital Communities course assisted UPP Arts in collecting all these materials so the can be easily accessed from the UPP Arts website, here.