A thriving arts culture not only deserves but demands the kind of press coverage that the NewPaper/Providence Phoenix provided during its 36-year run. From the Chorus of Westerly (yay, George Kent!) to the blues and jazz in Woonsocket (take a bow, Chan’s), I kept my eye on the state’s musical events for the most part. But music is politics and politics is theater and theater is storytelling and storytelling is at the heart of visual art — and yep, they’re all connected if viewed correctly.
Rhode Island, a compact and confounding place, has always provided audiences with plenty of the above, and our little weekly was heroic when it came to expanding the coverage of plays, exhibits, films, concerts, and festivals and legislation that La Prov’s statewide daily shrugged off as being too insignificant. I’d sometimes look at an issue and be amazed that all the key events of a very packed week were represented, from a Wisconsin skronk outfit’s Club Babyhead blast to an avant-garde film fest at the Cable Car. That’s important stuff, and it made me feel proud to be part of a squad that had their eye on the ball.
Whether questioning the nogoodniks in office (y’all ain’t really thinking of putting Buddy back in power now are ya? C’mon, guys. . .) or beating the drums for an adventurous show at Perishable Theater, the editors and their writers made sure Rhode Island felt a bit more alive. Enthusiastic previews, post-gig critiques — all that coverage helped animate the action across the state. Lou Papineau is an under-heralded linchpin in this impressive achievement — he had his hand on the wheel since 1980, and refined each issue with his insight, clarity, and stamina (in some quarters it’s known as The LouPaper). Applause goes his way from me in particular — Lou gave my byline a major boost early on.
Nope, given the state of global print media, it’s not shocking that the end has arrived. But it is infuriating. Culture-wise, there are plenty of vital new characters in action these days and the Phoenix won’t be around to shine a light on their work. Here’s to all those they celebrated, and here’s to the power of teamwork that made doing so such a blast.