The Urban Pond Procession’s (UPP) headquarters at Mashapaug Pond are nestled far away from the busy traffic of Reservoir Avenue and the clatter and commotion of shoppers at the nearby Ocean State Job Lot. To reach the Community Boating Center where many of the UPP events are held, one even has to ignore a few “no trespassing” signs. Despite this unobtrusive physical presence on the shores of the pond, UPP has been anything but quiet in its activism on behalf of Mashapaug Pond.
One of the first tangible products of UPP’s work were a series of signs warning visitors of the pond’s pollution that appeared around the pond in 2009. Colorful and intricate, the signs depicted fish and plants, together with warnings in multiple languages. Prior to that, the Rhode Island Health Department had been in charge of signage around the pond, which took the form of stark rectangle signs marked with ominous red circles reading “No Swimming!” The new signs, the product of a collaboration between local artist Holly Ewald and students from Alvarez High School and Charles Fortes Elementary School, raised neighborhood awareness and fostered UPP’s official beginning.
That summer, in the first Mashapaug Pond Procession, festival participants proudly carried silkscreened posters of the new signs. Students dressed in paper fish costumes marched with towering Big Nazo foam puppets, and attendees danced with members of the local What Cheer? Brigade brass band. At the end of the procession, participants gathered at the Community Boating Center for a concert by Community MusicWorks and hear presentations about the pond by a variety of speakers, including the students themselves.
Now UPP holds a festival every spring at the Pond. Students, artists, environmental activists, government administrators, and city residents celebrate the city’s ponds and waterways.
UPP is not the first organization to celebrate Mashapaug Pond. In the 1980s, members of the Reservoir Triangle Association (RTA) organized efforts to clean up the pond and preserve recreational space on its shoreline. The yearly Mashapaug Pond Festival at the J.T. Owens ballpark, featured Little League tournaments, international food vendors, fishing contests, children’s programs and, for the more intrepid, water-skiing.
Although the procession is UPP’s crowning achievement each year, UPP also organizes year-round workshops, collaborates with environmental groups on pond cleanups, and produces educational material for teachers. Ewald and other artists have also worked with students to create artistic installations for the pond. This includes the water-bottle sculpture, created by middle-school students at Providence’s Sophia Academy, erected in front of the Community Boating Center. The Mashapaug Monster, designed by artist Juliette Casselman and fabricated by The Steel Yard, floats annually on the pond at the time of the Procession to symbolically ward off the pollutants in the pond.
UPP’s presence at the boating center may be hidden from the average passerby on Reservoir Avenue, but workshops, signs, and artwork inspired by the pond demonstrate the Urban Pond Procession’s years of artistic and community collaboration.
The Urban Pond Procession uses artistic collaboration and performance to communicate the story of Mashapaug pond and its surrounding neighborhood. How do the posters, sculptures and art installations communicate information about Mashapaug differently than written stories or signs?
Is there something in your neighborhood that you would like to change? How might you use art, music, performance to raise awareness about it?
How do the different signs (Health Department versus UPP) make you think about the pond? Do they have similar or different effects?