March 2, 2024

EP Heritage Days are Born Again

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After a successful 40-year run of providing entertainment, culture and education, East Providence’s popular Heritage days paused its programming normally held at Pierce Memorial Stadium. “It is with a grateful heart that the Board of East Providence Heritage Days Inc. announces the conclusion of our flagship event, The Annual Heritage Festival.”  And with that social media posting on Sunday night, February 26, 2023, over 40 years of a popular summer festival ended.  The announcement, while a shock to many, came as just a mild surprise to those who followed the event closely.  “We’re thinking out our mission,” long time Heritage Chairman Clarence “Junior” Butler told the Reporter in a brief conversation a couple weeks before the news broke.  “It has been extremely difficult to keep this going at a level that people have come to know,” said a subdued Butler.  “Since its inception in 1981, we have strived to bring arts and culture to our community and beyond,” continued the Heritage Days statement in late February of ‘23. The event was held under the direction of the East Providence Recreation Department from 1981 and became incorporated in 2007 as a 501c3 nonprofit organization.  “The past four decades have been an extraordinary learning experience for all of us.  In celebrating ethnicity, we know that we are more alike than we are different,” said Butler.

In the early years of the summertime event, under the leadership of then Recreation Director, Joseph Crook and his staff, Heritage Days grew to become “the social event” of East Providence each year.  Except for when the event was held at the old East Providence High School, the event was held at City Hall until eventually Pierce Stadium was transformed into a weekend of food, music, art and crafts, storytelling, antique car shows and something for everyone.  Large crowds filled the football and baseball fields and the entire complex.  A highlight was always which nationally known bands would perform on a big stage as well as some local musicians.  Until 2007, the city helped with some expenses, but from 2007 on, Heritage Days was run by volunteers and a non-profit group.  Many sponsors would help.  The committee also donated funds to help with Pierce Stadium’s restoration and other costs.  As funds grew scarce and the events grew tired, the once popular festival ended as Townies knew it.  “We’ll be back with something else,” said Butler and his group of volunteers.

After much planning and re-shaping its role, “Heritage Days” is back.  A new name, a new purpose, a renewed energy and a promising future.  The non-profit group is now named the East Providence Heritage Arts Inc.  “At East Providence Heritage Arts Inc., we’re raising funds to support, promote and celebrate arts and culture.  We believe that experiencing art and culture in all forms whether performance or visual, whether global or local is the thread that unites us. In advancing this belief we maintain that the arts should be accessible and affordable to all. To raise public awareness of the importance of the arts, we’ll sponsor a variety of events,” writes the group’s mission statement.

On Saturday evening, January 20th, EPHS’ beautiful auditorium was a perfect setting for the East Providence Heritage Arts Inc. presentation of the “Voices of Classic Soul.”  The show featured  international recording artists Joe Coleman, former Drifters lead vocalist Jerome Jackson and Theo Peoples, the only singer in history with the distinction of being a member of The Temptations and The Four Tops in a show commemorating the 64th anniversary celebration of the founding of Motown.  A near capacity crowd danced in their seats (some in the aisles) to beloved classic #1 hits like My Girl, Just My Imagination, Ain't Too Proud To Beg, Only You, The Great Pretender, Under The Boardwalk, Save The Last Dance For Me, Can't Help Myself, Baby I Need Your Lovin' and so many more.

On that night last month, people braved frigid weather, a snow squall and the now infamous bridge closure, as many had a great evening and came out to support East Providence’s revised, 'East Providence Heritage Arts Inc.'  By all accounts, people left the show extremely pleased and talking about wanting to see more like it going forward.

Junior Butler, Alba Curti and the other board members were pleased with the exciting program and the rave reviews it received.  “We envision championing the arts in all forms as key to sustaining economic growth and a diverse, resilient, strong and vibrant community. Our hope is that the community will join us by supporting our mission and our events that are bound to make a measurable difference in the quality of life in our city and state.

Earlier in October, the group held a Battle of the Bands which also was well received.  “We’re not making any money yet and we hope our efforts grow on people.  Everyone volunteers and as a non-profit, we give back to those programs in need.

Heritage Arts is excited about its next production, also held at East Providence High School in its gleaming new auditorium.  Direct from its sellout tour in Australia, the ice-skating spectacular ‘Fairytales on Ice’ is touring the US in 2024. “Delight in the spectacular, as award-winning skaters bring your favorite fairy tale characters to life through ice skating, singing, and music!  Become immersed in a storyline that features the familiar and the unknown. ‘Fairytales on Ice’ will delight, entertain, and leave you and the family jumping for joy! Be mesmerized by world-class pro champion ice skaters, live singing, and cirque from all ends of the globe as they spin through show-stopping sets, bedazzling costumes, and enchanting effects that will delight and excite you,” blasts a notice from the new Heritage Arts, Inc.  Tickets for the March 16th, 2024, Fairytales on Ice - Ice-Skating Spectacular are available online through the group’s website https://www.epheritagearts.org.  Don’t miss out! 

East Providence Heritage Arts, Inc. wants to sponsor more family fun events. “In order to continue, we’ll need the community to come out and attend these events,” said Chairman Butler.  Based on the audience excitement from the January 20th Vintage Soul concert, Townies and non-Townies seem ready to join in the fun. The group has a web site:www.epheritagearts.org/contact. 

Board members are: Clarence ‘Junior’ Butler, Chairman, Alba Curti, Secretary/Treasurer, Diane Sullivan, Recording Secretary and board of Directors Kim Carpenter Brown, Rebecca Chace, Kelly Costa, Robin Lynn Hathaway, James Lombardo, Onna Moniz-John, Mike Sisto, David Tessier and Tony Vieira. 

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