Barnaby Evans – WaterFire Creator

Barnaby Evans
Barnaby Evans

Barnaby Evans is an artist who works in many media including site-specific sculpture installations, photography, garden design, architectural projects, film, writing and conceptual works. His original training was in the sciences, but he has been working exclusively as an artist and teacher for thirty years.

Barnaby Evans received his Sc.B. degree in biology and environmental science from Brown University in 1975. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Brown University and an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Rhode Island College, both in 2000. Evans has also received the Aaron Siskind Fellowship in Photography, several fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Silver Prize for Colour Photography at the International Triennial Exhibition (in Switzerland) and Providence’s Renaissance Award in 1997. Evans received the prestigious 2003 Kevin Lynch Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an award given every two years for an international work that is sensitive to the importance of place; Evans’ work was cited in two categories – change in city image and urban events and ephemera.  WaterFire was honored with the 2003 Rudy S. Bruner Silver Award for Urban Excellence from the Bruner Foundation given to Providence for the renaissance of its downtown. In 2010, Evans was honored with a Distinguished Service to the Arts Award from the National Governors Association. In 2011 Evans received the Tom Roberts Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities and a Tiffany & Co. award to commemorate WaterFire’s significant contribution to the revitalization of Providence and was inducted in the RI Heritage Hall of Fame.

Evans has lectured at many universities including Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, MIT, Harvard, Cornell, McGill, the University of Colorado, University of Arizona, the University of Barcelona, MAXXI (Rome), the Venice Architectural Biennale and TEDxProvidence. Evans was the 2003/2004 Artist in Residence at MIT and also taught courses at the Urban Studies Department at MIT on the impact of ephemera on the urban environment. WaterFire has been discussed in hundreds of articles and included in symposia in Helsinki, Barcelona, Montreal, Seoul, New Zealand, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and China. WaterFire has also been studied and written about in numerous urban studies and public art books, as well as appearing in many novels, poems, and films.

Barnaby Evans designed his first proposal for WaterFire in 1993 for a site in Berlin.  Evans created WaterFire in its first version in 1994 in Providence, RI as “First Fire.” In June 1996, due to extensive interest, he created “Second Fire” in Providence for the International Sculpture Conference and the Convergence International Arts Festival. With hundreds of volunteers and the broad support of the community he then established “WaterFire” as an on-going arts installation in Providence in the summer of 1996, where it has continued ever since, supported by a dedicated non-profit arts organization, the community, and thousands of volunteers.  WaterFire has been widely cited as for its importance in transforming Providence into a destination city and being the “crown jewel” of its renaissance.

WaterFire was an early exemplar of successful Creative Placemaking, included in Carol Coletta’s NPR radio show on urban trends Smart City in 2003, by Richard Florida on the Creative Economy, in MIT’s “Event Places” by Joaquim Sabate,Dennis Frenchman, and J. Mark Schuster in 2004, in the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2010 founding white paper “Creative Placemaking” by Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa, receiving one of ArtPlace’s major awards of $454,000 in 2012, hosting the national conference “The Art of Creative Placemaking” in November of 2013 (conference sessions here), establishing Placemakers.us as a portal for information on Creative Placemaking, and creating the International Center for Excellence in Creative Placemaking in 2015.

Evans and WaterFire International have created interpretations of WaterFire for a number of cities around the world, each in response to the particular sites and circumstances. The first was in Houston, Texas to celebrate the opening of Buffalo Bayou in 1998.  The Buffalo Bayou installation began a twenty year project in Houston to build an entire network of parks and walks along the city’s bayous.  WaterFire was set alight for two nights in Singapore in 2011, while also burning in Providence, the two being antipodes to each other, twelve hours apart.  Thus WaterFire was lite continuously in darkness for 36 hours.  WaterFire was set alight for two nights on the Tiber in Rome in 2013, from Ponte Sisto to Ponte Navona, with original dance choreography by Linda Foster.  Evans has created additional installations of WaterFire in Tacoma, Columbus, Kansas City, and Sharon.  Evans is currently exploring art installations for a number of other cities including Seoul, Ottawa, Hiroshima, Padua and Paris.

Among other art installation works, Barnaby Evans created Temple to Milk in 1989, Protecting the Flag in 1990, Execution Coda (with artist Irene Lawrence) in 1993, Plumb Line in 1994, and Solstice Courtyard in 1997. Evans created Rikyū’s Second Dream for the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art for the summer of 1999, a related work, 613 Lengths of Bamboo at the Brattleboro Museum of Art and Heart of Glass for the Museum of Glass and Contemporary Art in Tacoma, Washington, both in 2001.  Evans installed “Moving Water” for the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Vita Brevis Program in Boston in 2001, created in two sites on the Charles River at MIT in Cambridge and in The Fens by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Evans created two installations entitled “Never Use a Red Pen” in honor of Dr. J. Mark Schuster, one on the MIT campus and one at First Night Boston, both in 2008. “1000 Ships”, a meditation on the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade, was a collaboration with Lyra Monteiro and Andrew Losowsky of The Museum on Site presented at WaterFire in 2008. Starry, Starry Night was a new installation at WaterFire Providence unveiled in 2009. Bridge of Stars followed closely behind illuminating another part of the installation in 2010.

Evans is also known for his photography which is included in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Bibliotheque National, Paris; the Musee’ d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg, Switzerland; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; and the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design among others. His photographs have also been nationally and internationally exhibited and published in Camera (Lucerne, Switzerland); Photokina (Cologne, Germany)

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