By Elisa Rodero
Although it’s the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island’s outsized arts scene pairs seamlessly with the charm, scenery and history of New England to give you everything you want for a great trip. This list will help you build your itinerary—whether you’re looking to visit a city or a small town.
Home to Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence is the heart of Rhode Island’s artistic life. Historically important due to its prominence in the textile, machine tool, jewelry and silverware industries, the city boasts a vibrant arts scene that manages to be both quirky and sophisticated.
For indoor fun, the Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art (RIMOSA) is a STEAM-focused interactive museum that aims to “kindle curiosity and encourage exploration.” If your mood is more contemplative than adventurous, St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center, a former church, features a spectacular display of the largest collection of frescoes in North America.
On the third Thursday of every month, Gallery Night allows you to sample from 25 of Providence’s art galleries and museums at no charge, often with the opportunity to meet and talk to artists. A tour bus makes it easy to get around, led by experienced guides.
But by far the most popular no-cost art attraction in Providence for both visitors and locals, WaterFire is a fire-sculpture installation on the three rivers that pass through the heart of downtown. Almost 100 bonfires on the surface of the rivers give light to performers and musicians around the city.
Particularly well-suited for travelers whose tastes bend toward historical American architecture, Newport’s reputation as a summer getaway for Gilded Age gadabouts offers tours of sumptuous mansions with ornate interiors, spectacular seaside views and well-maintained topiary gardens.
The vacation destination of choice for early 20th century tycoons such as the Vanderbilts, the Newport neighborhood of Bellevue Avenue-Ochre Point remains the location of some of the most stunning Gilded Age private homes. This exclusive neighborhood is condensed enough that one can visit most historical mansions within a day, although the tickets never expire.
But that’s not the end of Bellevue Avenue’s cultural offerings. After getting a peek into their casual summer abodes, learn about the town’s past and its illustrious residents at the Newport Historical Society. Then skip over to the National Museum of Artistic Illustration, which features a delightful exploration of American illustration art, from all periods, styles and talents, and the Newport Art Museum, which aims to unite diverse groups through arts and cultural events such as exhibits, classes and public programs.