Settling into the Renaissance City
July 9, 2014 8:38 PM   Subscribe

We just moved to Providence. Help us get involved in it!

My partner and I just moved to Providence. We're academics with lots and lots of unstructured time and are looking for things to do when not writing. We're both pretty introverted and allergic to big crowds of strangers, so things are kind of intimidating; targeted activities would be better.

I am especially looking for some kind of historical society or archive to volunteer with (getting involved with local history makes me feel very connected to wherever I live). I have lots of experience with 19th/early 20th century archival material and love cataloguing for a good cause, but despite my best Googling I haven't been able to find any opportunities. The RI Historical Society seems to just be looking for docents and tour guides, which is not really what I'm looking for (I am not sure if this is just because they are currently dealing with the library being flooded or if this is how they always operate). Are there any other historical societies, archives, or museums out there that take volunteers and are less waterlogged?

We're also into food (are there good cooking classes out there? J&W's open classes are booked for months and don't seem to have much variety anyway), art, kayaking, biking, antiques and other old things, plants, coffee, and animals. We do have a car but would rather not travel too far afield.
posted by oinopaponton to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Yay, Providence!

I don't know much about them, but I know someone who worked at the Warwick Historical Society. Or maybe you can find something relevant at the John Carter Brown Library. There is also the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Although currently closed for renovation, the John Hay Library is a collection of rare books and other cool stuff. Perhaps this might be helpful, if you haven't seen it already.

As for art: don't miss the RISD Museum. RISD also has pretty regular art sales. There is also Gallery Night every third Thursday of the month.

The Fox Point / India Point Park area is lovely and right next to the water. Duck and Bunny (which is in that area) and Pastiche (Federal Hill) are great. As for the outdoors, there are a bunch of nice state parks nearby, or you could spend a day at nearby Block Island.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 9:12 PM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just moved from Providence and I'm really missing it. Have you looked into the Providence Athenaeum? It's a membership library right on Benefit. They have a volunteer application on their website. I'm not sure if they might have an opportunity that would interest you?

For antiques and/or coffee, there are a few options on Wickenden, which is in the Fox Point/India Point Park area getmutlichkeit mentioned. I always enjoyed The Coffee Exchange but it does tend to be pretty cramped. If you go really early on the weekend, it's not as bad.
posted by themoonfromthesea at 11:45 PM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

You mention biking, so you should definitely check out the East Bay Bike Path. It goes all the way down the coast from India Point Park in Providence -- down through Barrington, Warren, and Bristol. It's really gorgeous.
posted by fancyoats at 6:41 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh, congratulations. Providence is my very favorite city ever.

Other posters have good suggestions. For volunteering, I would also recommend the Rhode Island State Archives. Right downtown on Westminster. I volunteered there for awhile, and they really appreciated it, were super friendly, and had tons of interesting old stuff (maps, too). I mostly sorted through boxes and boxes of uncatalogued stuff, so they probably will have something for you to do.

Don't know about cooking classes, but there are tons of great places to eat! I would recommend Nicks on Broadway, personally, which I think is one of the best if not the best in the city. I also really love Apsara on the southside. You also can't go wrong with East Side Pockets. For coffee, I'd suggest either Coffee Exchange, or White Electric. Come to think of it, Modern Diner is right down the street from White Electric, and is also great.

I am so glad to hear you like biking! Providence is perfect for biking. I never had a car, and having a bike made all of the difference. There are wonderful neighborhoods in Providence, but not all of them are easily walkable to each other. But! It is basically a 20 minute bike ride to anywhere in thecity, and will allow you to take the wonderul East Bay Bike Path, too. (There are other great paths as well, all over the state. Your local bike shop will give you a free map!) Plus it's a very supportive biking environment, and you can also take them on the RIPTA buses.

If you go to church at all, the churches are super historical. Oldest baptist church in America is right on the east side, for example, but there are others with a lot of history.

So many great places to go to nature. Roger Williams park and zoo is absolutely wonderful. And, for longer trips, nearby communities of Johnston and Newport (you'd have to drive) provide lots of great swimming opportunities. I'm particularly fond of Beavertail.

For art, you may want to consider volunteering (or hanging out at) New Urban Arts. It is a really wonderful organization that does great work. Obviously the RISD museum is great too, as mentioned. AS220 is a Providence staple in the art/music scene, with great reliable local music, and good art performances too. They also offer a variety of dance/art classes. Finally, if you are into the trades at all, or like bike repair, consider checking out The Steel Yard. A real gem.

Okay, I could really truly go on forever. Please memail me if you would like more suggestions. I hope you enjoy Little Rhody!
posted by likeatoaster at 9:29 AM on July 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Waterfire is Saturday.

(and other weekends thereafter.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:34 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

The JWU "Chef's Choice" classes are awesome. I think a new list comes out quarterly, but call and ask:

For art there's AS220 at

You can take guided kayak tours on the Blackstone River through Blackstone Valley Outfitters (which is run by an awesome guy named Don). My son & I went last summer, and he asked to go again!

Coffee is roasted at New Harvest Coffee in Pawtucket, and sold by the cup at their cafe in the historic Arcade downtown (where you can also get a dram in the afternoon or evening).
posted by wenestvedt at 10:28 AM on July 10, 2014


Seconding likeatoaster's recommendation of AS220's classes, as well as the Steel Yard. AS220 has got everything from 3D printing and soldering to letterpress and bookbinding. (And also seconding the recommendations for Beavertail and RIPTA!)

I know you said you're introverted, but the Walks and Rambles meetup group was quite welcoming when I was a member years ago, and I'm not an extrovert, either.

A colleague introduced me to the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, and they have fun events including urban birdwatching and even kayaking on the rivers in downcity! They sometimes need volunteers for park maintenance and sign painting.

When I was part of the Appalachian Mountain Club, I found out about the Blackstone Parks Conservancy, which is concerned with maintaining a lovely almost-hidden park on the fancy side of town.

Library-wise, you could also look into the Providence Community Library and the Providence Public Library, which are separate institutions. Lastly, the Providence City Archives might be worth a try. (Not sure what the policies are on volunteers at any of these, but it can't hurt to send an email.)

Please feel free to memail me if you have questions!
posted by metarkest at 10:29 AM on July 10, 2014

East Side Pocket is classic Providence! It's the first thing I eat every time I'm back.

Also just wanted to add that there's Seven Stars Bakery.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 11:00 AM on July 10, 2014

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