Creativity in bloom

Creativity in bloom

Before, below, and after photos, above, show the What Cheer Flower Farm in Olneyville, where students from Riverzedge Arts in Woonsocket created window coverings to spruce up a former factory building targeted for rehabilitation.
Riverzedge students create window coverings for What Cheer Flower Farm

WOONSOCKET – A series of broken-down old windows at Providence’s What Cheer Flower Farm got the star treatment recently thanks to students from Riverzedge Arts.

Participants in the Woonsocket-based youth arts program created colorful window coverings showcasing the beauty of the natural world at the Olneyville flower farm. The windows are located in the former Colonial Knife Company factory, a prominent building in the neighborhood and future expansion site for the nonprofit organization.

Anne Holland, president of the What Cheer Flower Farm board of directors, said the project started with the organization’s plans to eventually expand into the vacant building. In 2018, the group acquired 2.7 acres of former industrial land just off Route 6. They use the property outside the building to grow flowers and are working with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to remediate the former industrial space.

“As part of our remediation, though, there’s a portion of this vast, scary, derelict old factory that we really want to save because it’s historic and kind of beautiful in the same way,” she said. “And that portion is part of the original Colonial Knife Factory.”

The group is hoping to raise the funds to turn the building into a training center for floristry and garden-related careers. In the meantime, the factory’s broken windows meant rain and snow were getting in and rotting it from the inside. They needed to board up the windows to keep the elements out and wanted something that would reflect their mission of spreading joy through flowers.

“We went to Riverzedge with a grant from (the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts) and we said hey, would you guys like to design what art would go in these windows?” Holland said.

According to Brad Fesmire, artistic director at Riverzedge, youth participants were thrilled work on the project. The What Cheer Flower Farm property is visible from Route 6, making it a very public display of participants’ artwork.

“I think any time the youth can see their hard work and their designs and their art out in the real world, I think that’s successful in itself,” he said. “This is pretty large scale and on display for many people to see. I think it underscores to them that art matters.”

Fesmire said participants in the organization’s Public Art Studio divided the project up into nine panels with each young person designing their own panel. The five-by-nine-foot panels, he said, were so big they barely fit into the group’s Fairmount studio. Artists sketched and began painting the panels, with Fesmire finishing up the work when the program went virtual due to COVID-19 in November.

“I think this is a pretty great way to add some aesthetic beauty and some professionalism to that building while they take the time to raise their funds to rehab it,” he said.

The end result, said Holland, has gotten very positive reactions since the panels were installed.

“People just love them. I think the key is it makes it a happy place. When you’re next to a big derelict building, you inherently don’t feel safe and happy,” she said.

“Now, suddenly, it’s saying yes, this place is claimed. This place is here to bring joy. It’s a very important thing,” she added.

Holland said What Cheer Flower Farm plans to continue its partnerships with local arts groups to encourage art inspired by their flower fields. The group donates all the flowers grown onsite, and last year gave away 50,000 flowers to those in need.

Before photo.