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Elorza talks about his final PVDFest as mayor of Providence

Jun 9, 2022

Elorza launched PVDFest in 2015, his first year in office, and with term limits making this his final year in office, he’s about to preside over his last festival as mayor. (Globe Rhode Island is a creative sponsor of PVD Fest 2022.)

He said he hopes the next mayor will continue the event. “I think it’ll be really hard for whoever’s next to be the Grinch that steals PVDFest,” he said. “I hope that doesn’t happen, but that’s not up to me.”

On the podcast, Elorza and Lizzie Araujo, director of the Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, detailed plans for the free outdoor arts and culture festival, which will draw thousands of people downtown this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Elorza said he’s glad to see the festival coming back after the pandemic forced the city to cancel the event the past two years.

“It’s been really hard over the last couple of years,” he said. “We’ve been physically distant. We’ve been separated. I think that our city needs PVDFest. It’s not a party. It’s a celebration. We celebrate each other. We celebrate our artists community. It’s a great boon for local businesses. Does it get any better than dancing with strangers in the street? I mean, we need a little bit of joy in our lives.”

Elorza talked about how PVDFest began. He said he and a good friend used to go down to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival every year. “We would say: Wouldn’t it be cool if Providence had something like this?” he said. “Then I became mayor and I had the opportunity to put this on at this scale. As I was planning to put this forward, FirstWorks was already working on something similar. So we joined forces, supercharged it, and it became the first PVDFest.”

Araujo mentioned some of the highlights of the festival, including the Rebirth Brass Band on Friday night and the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra on Saturday night. Also, Squonk’s latest outdoor spectacle, “Hand to Hand,” will bring a pair of giant hands to Kennedy Plaza. “It will be 25-foot giant hands that kids and families can interact with and do puppeteering with,” she said.

Problems tend to happen later at night, so the city is ending the festival earlier this year, Elorza said. “The whole thing is designed to be family friendly, and it’s going to be different from the past,” he said. This year’s PVDFest hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

In 2019, panicked crowds scattered when a gunman opened fire in a crowded downtown intersection late on a Saturday night during PVDFest. No one was injured. But two years earlier, an innocent bystander was left paralyzed after what was believed to be a gang-involved drive-by shooting during PVDFest.

Elorza said the police department and his office work on a security plan for the event. “We take that very, very seriously,” he said. “We had that really scary incident, and that also happened at the very end of the night.” But, he said, “I’m confident that we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that people are safe.”

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.

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