Sunday, July 17, 2005

WaterFire on the Mile

Columbus has a new third place.

Not to take anything away from Columbus Metro Library or any of the other fine libraries in this area, but last night, Columbus introduced WaterFire on the Mile.

The setting was just north of downtown, along a stretch of the Scioto River between two railroad bridges and adjacent to a new city park. The ritual started just at dusk with a procession of torch bearers that felt like the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from the original Fantasia. Then, to a wonderfully selected accompaniment of world music, volunteers in gondolas set 50 braziers ablaze in the river and tended them for more than three hours. Thousands of central Ohioans came together to help create an art installation that involved all five senses. In the park and along the street, stiltwalkers and fire jugglers enchanted the crowd. The atmosphere was at once festive and reflective. It had to be the happiest, most diverse, and soberest large crowd I've ever been part of in this city.

The artist, Barnaby Evans, had created a similar work in Providence, Rhode Island. The river there, from what I've seen on TV and the Providence website, is more like the Riverwalk in San Antonio, narrower, more accessible, and winding right through the downtown area. This setting is a trifle more remote from downtown, and the river is wider, but the effect was not lessened.

Even for someone like me, someone who's about as spiritual as a brick, there was a sense of peace, of getting in touch with something so deep in our humanity that it's hard to describe. The aroma of the burning wood, the crackling sounds of the fires, the warmth on the skin that lessened and intensified as one moved closer to or away from the braziers, the way the fire reflected in the water, the music in so many genres and languages, the good fellowship that permeated the air: the combined effect was simultaneously overwhelming and deeply reassuring.


Gregor said...

Thanks for the great description of Waterfire -- much better than any I've see in the papers. Sadly, we missed it, but we're looking forward to the next event in September.

Former Clevelander said...

George, clearly the artist is paying homage to the great city to the North, Cleveland Ohio. WHo can forget when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire spontaneously do to its own effluents and pollution? This is clearly a memorial to that event.

Angela said...

I wanted to LOVE WaterFire as much as you did but I just couldn't. my husband and I arrived early for a good viewing spot and were later pushed into the green fencing by late comers. The music on the downtown side of North Bank Park was reasonably loud. A quick trip to the otherside of the park was an assualt on my ears. The music was entirely too loud. I heard many (young and old) complaining about the volume. For me there was no artistic side or ambiance, no "chill-bump" moments - just fire in baskets on a dirty, dirty river.

Anonymous said...

Responding to Angela -
So if no one comes down to the river, its going to clean itself?

Public involvement will clean the river.

Crowd expectations were 10,000 and there were atleast 30,000 people in attendance for the first WaterFire. Yes it was crowded. And with being the first event, there are some issues that needed to be worked out, and volume was one of them.

But its easy to sit behind your keyboard and complain about the event. Why not do something radical and actually get involved with the event, and make a change?