Best of Rhode Island 2020

While the pandemic changed life as we knew it, we’ve still got a lot to celebrate. Check out this list of do-good Rhode Islanders with whom we are lucky to share this place we call home, plus the results of our annual readers’ poll.

Arts Smarts

Artists who open creative windows when we’re feeling cooped up.


Courtesy AS220

In the face of PPE shortages, the Providence-based arts organization called upon its network of makers to step up. AS220 Industries designed and fabricated laser-cut face shields and aided with prototypes that convert CPAP and BiPAP machines into ventilators for local hospitals. What’s more, the nonprofit hosted virtual concerts that amplified local musicians and commissioned stunning murals supporting the Black Lives Matter protests.

Robin Kall, Reading with Robin’s Biggest Summer Book Bash
Robin Kall created a monthly virtual book club for the summer where authors appeared for discussions with fans. The initiative had people reading one book a week in hopes of keeping individuals engaged and happy during COVID-19. “We need books and engagement now more than ever. What we’ve put together here is the perfect way for readers to connect with other readers and their favorite authors,” says Kall.

RI Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensembles and Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School
The Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School brought live and virtual music to the community one Saturday in May when seventy-two students gathered on front lawns across the region and played their individual parts of four concert pieces. “During this interruption, it’s important to keep kids motivated and connected with their music community,” says wind ensemble director, David Neves.

Julie Beebe, Yes! Gallery and Jake Fahrenholz/Fresh Mode Screen Printing
With the help of local designer Rob Dube, these two entrepreneurs created “Local Love” apparel. The T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, available at Yes! Gallery, raise money for the North Kingstown food pantry, totaling more than $2,500 so far.;

Katie Pearson, Devine Reith Photography’s Front Steps Project
Pearson’s spin on the nationwide Front Steps Project — where photographers snap portraits of families from safe distances, with proceeds supporting nonprofits — spread the love to local businesses, too. In her free package, Pearson included a session, editing and one image so long as the family purchased a gift certificate to a small business. A very pregnant Pearson photographed twenty families in three days and raised $1,085 to help local businesses stay afloat amid COVID-19-related shutdowns.

Common Fence MUSIC
With Coronavirus shutting down live performances across the country, Common Fence Music decided to bring its Love and Harmony Benefit concert to people’s homes through their YouTube channel. The live-streamed broadcast of eight local acts was free to the public in an effort to promote and share the holistic benefits of maintaining artistic engagement and connections while stuck at home during such a challenging time.

Virtual Reality

Art goes digital.


Courtesy PVDlive

An Artist’s Relief Virtual Variety Series

When music venues shuttered, Chrissy Stewart of PVDlive launched An Artist’s Relief on Instagram. The idea was to raise funds for sixty-five participating artists, and viewers donated more than $2,000. But, amid conversations around racial injustice, many artists instead donated to groups combatting systemic racism, including the RI Black Business Association. Now that’s playing for change.

Brush Up Your Shakespeare
Gamm Theatre
The Gamm’s artistic director, Tony Estrella, has the energy of five, and he infused it in his regular Friday live streams on the Bard’s best work. One takeaway: Shakespeare’s plays inspired Tony to become an actor, so he knows his stuff. That, and he really likes Iron Maiden.

A Durational and Isolational Birthday Celebrational
Walker Mettling
An all-nighter on your fortieth birthday sounds like… a bad hangover. But illustrator Walker Mettling’s take on “Forty and Fabulous!” involved a birthday banner, balloons and a twenty-four-hour drawing marathon broadcast live on streaming site Twitch. This birthday bender — coupled with his regular drawing prompts for Instagram — proved it: Mettling is the creative sensei we never knew we needed. —Casey Nilsson