More than 200 people danced and marched to music for a mile and a half around parks in the south side of Providence. They were part of the Urban Pond Procession, an annual event that promotes the health of urban ponds.
In its 9th year, the Urban Pond Procession blended indigenous culture and urban waterways as its theme this year. It celebrated Mashapaug Pond on the south side of Providence as an important ancestral site for native people — a site that’s now too polluted for swimming and fishing. But that doesn’t take away from its beauty or importance, said Holly Ewald, UPP Arts founder and executive director.
“We’re really trying to bring together different groups of people to really understand that our urban ponds are real treasures,” said Ewald. “And they bring solace to people who have hectic lives. You come and sit by the water and it’s very calming and chill."
Ewald said the annual procession reminds elected officials that people want to see this pond healthy again. “And it’s up to us to try and work on cleaning it up and advocating for its cleanup."
The pond is classified as an "impaired" body of water because it does not meet water quality standards. It became polluted after a silver manufacturing company began to operate on its eastern shore since the 1890s. The pond became the company's dumping site for toxic metals, solvents and other waste products.
The procession is the culmination of months of work. Various artists, including members from the Narragansett Tribe, worked with students from Alvarez High School, Reservoir Elementary School, and a couple of schools in Cranston on various art projects showcased during the annual event on Saturday.
Elementary students created “pollinator” hats that they wore during the procession, while high school students debuted a documentary film on contemporary indigenous culture at sunset after the procession.
The film was screened on a sculpture that will be floating on Mashapaug Pond through October. The sculpture was made by The Steel Yard with support from a grant by National Endowment of the Arts issued through the City of Providence. It features images of plankton, plants, and other animals designed by third graders last year.
“I want to use the arts to draw people to Mashapaug Pond, so that it’s a place they can go to relax and take their kids and hopefully the art will draw more people to it,” said Ewald.
The programming during the school year teaches students about the local cultural and environmental history of the city’s urban ponds and neighborhoods. The students also learn about how humans contribute to environmental problems and ways they can also be a part of the solution.
That's a big reason why Phil Edmonds has been volunteering with the procession since its inception nine years ago. "It gives area school children some place to care about, you know, Mashapaug Pond and Roger Williams Park, and it's all through the arts," said Edmonds.
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