Government grants will encourage local arts and culture

Artist John La Farge’s designs and artwork include paintings on the walls, ceiling and throughout the 1850’s building, formerly the Newport Congregational Church, which is now a National Historic Landmark. (Photo by Aaron Usher)

Seven local public and nonprofit organizations will benefit from the recently announced state grants approved by Rhode Island voters last year. The money came from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) and was awarded to fund capital improvement projects and facilities at local museums, venues, historic sites and more.

“Rhode Island is rich in history, art and culture that plays a significant role in our economy in every city and town,” said Gov. Dan McKee, who announced the funding. “Through this funding, our state will continue to be a national leader in heritage preservation, arts and culture… Thank you to RISCA and RIHPHC for your work to improve the quality of life in our state.”

Locally, the grants are used to support the maintenance and restoration of historic architecture and art, and to provide ADA-compliant disabled access and facilities. Grantees include the Newport Art Museum, the Newport Performing Arts Center, the Preservation Society of Newport, and the La Farge Restoration Fund.

“This support will help us maintain the integrity of our historic John NA Griswold House while ensuring our new artist-in-residence space is ready to host artists who will bring a diverse array of artistic voices to our community,” he told Norah Diedrich, executive director of the Newport Art Museum.

A total of $150,000 from RIHPHC and the Alletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust will fund the restoration of an orientalist ceiling decoration painted by artist John La Farge in 1881 at the former Newport Congregational Church, now a National Historic Landmark. The substrate on which the decoration was painted dates from the building’s original construction in the 1850s and has become unstable. The ceiling plaster is reapplied to hold the piece in place.

“La Farge always wanted…to have artistic control over the full scope of the work, and this was one of the rare occasions when he could produce both opalescent and tinted glass in combination with decoration,” said Paul Miller, President of La Farge Restoration Fund. “This project isn’t exactly glamorous, but it is critical infrastructure work to preserve the art.”

RISCA receives $94,000 in funding, matching a Champlin Foundation grant, to install an accessible ramp along Spring Street to the north tower of the former church and add an ADA-compliant restroom in the lobby.

The Newport Performing Arts Center will use the money for the next phase of construction of a project to restore the former Newport Opera House on Touro Street.

“We continue to seek and receive third-party funding that will be allocated to the structural elements of the project,” said John Cratin, executive chairman of the arts center. “A current project is the restoration of the historical components, especially the stage arch. These components are critical to ultimately receiving the state and federal historical tax credits.”

Seventeen windows and doors in The Elms are being restored through $74,250 in grant funding distributed to the Preservation Society of Newport County. Also a National Historic Landmark, The Elms was designed by famed Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer.

Other local institutions receiving funds include the Newport Restoration Foundation, Fort Adams Trust and Island Moving Co., one of two statewide organizations to receive the maximum grant of $250,000.

Rhode Island voters approved $7 million to fund such projects under the Cultural Arts and State Preservation Grants Programs ballot measure in March 2021. for capital improvements to important historical facilities. Carryover funds from the $30 million ballot measure in 2014 totaling $460,930 were included in the grants distributed. In both programs, the scholarship holders must secure the appropriate funds for their projects.

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