The story of Empire Street

AS220’s Empire Street complex is Providence’s essential generative space downtown. In 1993, we converted this severely blighted building into a permanent mixed-use home for the arts: a visionary step that has ensured artists remain vital content creators and stakeholders in the city’s downtown. Led by artist, civic leader and cultural provocateur Umberto (Bert) Crenca, over 200 volunteers contributed to the realization of Empire Street in the early 1990s. Our vision was the spark of new life, vibrancy and creative energy that was necessary to catalyze the city’s revitalization when much of downtown was still boarded up.

Since then, AS220’s Empire Street complex has become a vibrant hub that houses AS220’s Main Stage, Main Gallery, Black Box Theatre, Dance Studio, Paul Krot Community Darkroom, our nationally renowned Youth program serving at- and beyond-risk young people, 11 low-income residential spaces, one work studio, and our restaurant and bar.

2018 marks 25 years since AS220 opened its Empire Street complex and committed to investing creative energy in Providence’s virtually abandoned downtown core. Over the years, tens of thousands of artists have embraced AS220 as their artistic ‘home base’ by living, performing, exhibiting, teaching or learning there. AS220 has launched careers; provided space for experimentation and creative expression; helped young people envision new hope for their futures; brought hundreds of thousands of people together to enjoy cultural experiences; and so much more. As a donor recently said, “AS220 is the heartbeat of Providence.”

“I was an original member of AS220 (as Umberto says, “an OG”). Having no financial means to pursue art in an academic way, I was drawn to the community and practice that AS220 provided. It gave me the courage, exposure and access necessary to feed my artistic hunger. I’ve lived in many cities since leaving Providence and have yet to find anything even remotely close to what AS220 is, and continues to become. It amazes me that no matter how much growth, change, difficulty, or ease AS220 experiences, the mission does not falter. What I once knew as a very special community that I thrived in, has now developed into a vital establishment for people all over the world. AS220 IS MY MUSE!”

— Helena Thompson, multi-media performance artist, musician, photographer and former AS220 resident