Riverzedge Arts Celebrates Twenty Years

The Woonsocket-based arts organization will host its twentieth anniversary summer block party on Saturday, July 16.
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Photography courtesy of Riverzedge Arts

In a basement woodworking shop in Woonsocket, eight teenagers gather around a table. The participants, ages fourteen through eighteen, are members of the Public Arts Studio at Riverzedge Arts, where they earn an hourly wage for their work in the arts-based after-school program. Today’s lesson: making cutting boards bound for Stock Culinary Goods in Providence. At the center, Artistic Director Brad Fesmire is demonstrating how to use a drill press.

“We have a special saw — a track saw — that actually gets hooked up to a vacuum,” he says as the students listen closely.

Outside in the hallway, youthful shouts accompany the rhythmic, underlying bustle of an art studio hard at work. Riverzedge Arts is  in its twentieth year serving the young people of Woonsocket and the surrounding area with arts programming that doubles as a path to economic and cultural sustainability. Founded in 2002 by a mother concerned with patterns of teen violence in the wake of the Columbine shooting, the nonprofit has endured many changes over the years but stayed remarkably true to its roots, according to Executive Director Kristen Williams. The nonprofit uses art as a tool for social change. 

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Photography courtesy of Riverzedge Arts

“From the beginning, our mission’s been consistent,” she says. “Work with some kids, get them to stay in school, help them earn money, help them learn a trade, help them get a job or go to a postsecondary opportunity. And that has not changed. The scale of it has changed.”

The product of that work is visible in the Riverzedge Arts-branded goods available for sale around the state as well as the organization’s long-running ties with the surrounding Fairmount neighborhood. On July 16, neighbors and corporate clients alike will gather to celebrate with a free-to-all block party. Gourmet Bae Catering Company and Jade’s Flour Shop will provide food, while activities will include print-your-own T-shirts and homemade carnival games.

“There’ll be food, there’ll be really cool activities that in true Riverzedge fashion will largely be built from wood,” Williams says. “We’re going to do fun stuff that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.”

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Photography courtesy of Riverzedge Arts

The organization moved to its current home in 2014 after the previous location — a former mill on the banks of the Blackstone River — was condemned due to electrical issues. Williams says it’s important they remain rooted in Woonsocket, a community where so many of their youth have faced academic, economic and other challenges. 

“As I say, it always helps to cook with the right ingredients, and we do,” she says. “The kids are awesome, the city is vibrant, full of opportunity and very inspirational because of its industrial past. We want the kids to feel invested in the industrial histories here and to feel that they’re part of that continuum. Because they’re makers.”

Riverzedge Arts 20th Anniversary Summer Block Party, July 16, noon to 5 p.m., 196 2nd Ave., Woonsocket, riverzedgearts.org

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Photography courtesy of Riverzedge Arts