Barnaby Evans is an artist, designer, developer, thought leader and consultant who uses his experience in many fields and media to create original solutions in planning, public art, public space, environmental resiliency and urban interfaces. Originally trained as a scientist focusing on environment and ecology, Evans creates original art works and design solutions involving major urban interventions, site-specific sculpture installations, photography, landscape, architectural and design projects, writing, and conceptual works. Evans combines his technical and ecological expertise, an awareness of spatial psychology, his sensitivity as an artist and a design philosophy to create unique solutions to public art and urban issues.
Evans created WaterFire in Providence in 1994 as part of an effort to rebrand and re-establish Providence as a destination. Frustrated by the intense negativity of the local residents about their capital city and recognizing that the just finished award-winning river relocation plan and park would need pump priming to be an effective change agent, Evans designed WaterFire as a city-scale intervention that combines a design approach with aesthetics, land art, installation, site specific work, music, ritual and spectacle.
WaterFire has been called “the crown jewel of the Providence Renaissance,” “a vision of fire and architecture” that “engages and mesmerizes viewers with an emotional power very few works of art ever achieve.” “A signature piece for the city,” and “one of the loveliest spiritual/communal experiences of my adult life … a magnificently uplifting experience for all.” “It’s rare for art in any medium, from performance to monumental sculpture, to attain the overwhelming impact of WaterFire.” “WaterFire, a kind of primal civic rite…symbolizes the city’s effort to make the arts a major player in the revitalization of its … downtown.”
WaterFire is an ongoing non-profit 501(c)3 whose mission is to inspire Rhode Island and its visitors, revitalize the urban experience, foster community and civic engagement and creatively transform the city for all to enjoy. Recently Evans has been involved in designing innovative climate resiliency approaches for Providence and developing the WaterFire Arts Center, a dramatic, award-winning transformation of a 1929 U.S. Rubber mill building into a contemporary art space that opened in 2017. An earlier project was the restoration of a 1906 elementary school building into an artist community.
Evans received Providence’s Renaissance Award in 1997 and the 2003 Kevin Lynch Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in recognition for the impact of WaterFire on Providence. Kevin Lynch was the founder of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Transportation. The Kevin Lynch Award is presented annually by MIT “to honor outstanding contributions to the making of places that invoke and capture a generous relationship between an urban place and the people who use it.”
WaterFire was honored with the 2003 Rudy S. Bruner Silver Award for Urban Excellence from the Bruner Foundation given to Providence for the renaissance of downtown. In 2010, Evans received the Distinguished Service to the Arts Award from the National Governors Association. Evans and WaterFire were honored in 2011 with the first RI Arts and Tourism Award, from Tiffany & Co., for his “Contribution to the Renaissance of Providence” and the RI Council on the Humanities’ 2011 Tom Roberts Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities. In 2012, WaterFire was recognized with the award of a $454,000 grant from ArtPlace, a consortium of foundations focused on creating urban vibrancy.
Evans was the 2003/2004 Artist in Residence at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Transportation and taught there with the late Professor M. David Schuster on the critical impact of site scale, cultural programing, social engagement and ephemera on the success of urban environments. Evans has lectured at many universities and museums including Tamasek Polytechnic University (Singapore), the Venice Biennale, MAXXI – Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (Rome), the University of Barcelona, Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, MIT, Harvard GSD, Cornell, McGill, the University of Colorado, Syracuse, Colgate, University of Arizona, Roger Williams University and Providence College. Evans was an artist in residence at Colgate University in 2017-2018.
Barnaby Evans received his ScB in biology and environmental science from Brown University in 1975. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humanities by Brown University (2000), an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Rhode Island College (2000), an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Roger Williams University (2016) and an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Providence College (2017). Evans also received the Aaron Siskind Fellowship in Photography, several fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, the Silver Prize for Colour Photography at the International Triennial Exhibition (in Switzerland) and WaterFire has been discussed in hundreds of articles and included in symposia in Helsinki, Barcelona, Montreal, Seoul, Venice, New Zealand, Amsterdam, Rome, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Houston, Cooperstown, Columbus, Syracuse, Colgate, and Los Angeles. WaterFire also has been studied and written about in numerous urban studies and public art texts and has appeared in novels, poems, and films.
Barnaby Evans created WaterFire in its first version in 1994 in Providence and in its second version in June of 1996 for the International Sculpture Conference and the Convergence International Arts Festival in Providence. Evans also created WaterFire Houston in 1998 and Evans has created installations of WaterFire in Rome, Singapore, Houston, Columbus, Tacoma, Kansas City, and Sharon. Evans is actively engaged in projects in Venice, Berlin, and Paris and is currently exploring art installations for a number of cities.
Other projects by Evans include the installation of Moving Water for the Institute of Contemporary Art Vita Brevis program in Boston and Cambridge in 2001, Temple to Milk in 1989, Protecting the Flag in 1990, Execution Coda in 1993, Plumb Line in 1994, and Solstice Courtyard in 1997. Evans created Rikyū’s Second Dream for the RI School of Design Museum of Art for 1999 for the opening of the new wing, 613 Lengths of Bamboo at the Brattleboro Museum of Art, and Heart of Glass for the Museum of Glass and Contemporary Art in Tacoma, Washington, both in 2001.
1000 Ships, an art installation and meditation on the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade, was a collaboration with Lyra Monteiro and Andrew Losowsky and Museum on Site presented at WaterFire in 2008. Evans created an interactive theatrical performance recreating Dr. Martin Luther King’s first political speech (in 1955) that was presented in 2018 at the WaterFire Art Center as part of the Ryan Mendoza’s Rosa Parks House Project, starring Phoenyx Williams, it will be repeated as part of the PVD Fringe Festival in July, 2018. Evans was Artist in Residence at Colgate University in 2018.
Barnaby Evans is also known for his photography which is included in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Bibliotheque National, Paris; the Musee’ d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg, Switzerland; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; and the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design among others. His photographs have also been nationally and internationally exhibited and published in Camera (Switzerland), Photokina (Germany); Photography Annual, New York; and Schweizerische Photorundschau / Revue Suisse de Photographie (Switzerland).
Evans is also deeply involved in environmental issues, climate resiliency strategies and solutions and interventions related to sea level rise.
Evans invented the E-flat Flammaphone, a fire instrument, in 2010.