I WAS THERE PROJECT: A collaborative residency of writers, artists, oral historians, students and neighbors.

The I WAS THERE Project is a highly integrated Arts-Based Learning program that strives to preserve and celebrate the history of Fox Point, Providence, Rhode Island.

The mission of I WAS THERE is to use oral histories and the arts to engage students in learning about the history and life of their school, the Fox Point community, and the natural environment that surrounds them. I WAS THERE connects the students of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School with the greater community through public performances, the Faces of Fox Point photo exhibit and IWT blog forums.


2013 April 24
by I Was There Project

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013, 6:00 – 8:00

Vartan Gregorian Elementary School
455 Wickenden Street, Providence

The past meets the present during “A Walk Down Wickenden” where creative expression comes alive with a Literary Salon, a Neighborhood Photography Exhibit, a Live Procession Band, and Vaudeville theater.  Produced by the 4th and 5th grade students of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point as part of the celebrated I WAS THERE Project

I WAS THERE: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF EXPRESSING OURSELVES will combine oral history techniques, creative writing, photography, vaudeville theater, music and instrument making, with a  final live presentation to connect students with their school and its community, and the rich history of the arts in Fox Point.

At this year’s annual I WAS THERE public final event, on Thursday, May 2, 2013, 6 – 8 pm, visitors will be invited to take an imaginary “Walk Down Wickenden” in the school’s hallways to engage with all that our students have learned and experienced with their resident IWT teachers and artists during this seven month arts immersion residency.  This free public event, is the result of our students’ research of local art history, conducting of oral history interviews, and immersion in four nine-week artist residencies with highly regarded local RI artists.

During the event, guests will peek into various rooms and hallways and discover along the way: a Writers’ Salon of old featuring 5th grade poets nurtured in a Literature Residency by Hillary Brady and Rachel Shipps of Brown University, from Poet Laureate, Rick Benjamin’s Poets in Community Service class.  Guests will also view this year’s Oral History interviews conducted by our students with preparation from their I WAS THERE teachers Lisa Melmed, Sarita Rich and Ria Fulton. Interviews containing the wonderful musings of author Ann Hood, storyteller Len Cabral, theater artist Vanessa Gilbert, Barker Playhouse actor David Crossley, Holy Rosary Church organist, Manuel Correia, and architect and photographer of local architecture, Erik Gould will be featured on large-screen format.

And, there’s more.  As visitors continue down “Wickenden” they’ll happen upon a gallery of neighborhood images where new ideas of collage, portrait, panorama and tintype photography were explored by 4th grade students, and upper grade students of differing abilities in their residency with photographer/visual artist, Deborah Hickey.   From there, guests will hear the sounds of student-crafted marimbas and drums emanating from the I WAS THERE processional marching band practice room.  They’ll follow the beats, take a peek, and listen.  Guests will be welcome to try their hand at one of the instruments our 4th grade students made in their residency with members, Joshua Lantzy, Amy Small and Michael Gore of Rhode Island’s own Extraordinary Rendition Band.

Once the band is warmed up they’ll lead visitors to the IWT Vaudevillian Theater for a performance from two of our 5th grade classes.  These vaudeville actors were trained by IWT resident artists Keri King and Liz Zito, who channeled local Fox Point resident George M. Cohan for inspiration.

Community partners for this year’s I WAS THERE Project aside from Vartan Gregorian Elementary School’s award-winning teachers, were The John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University, the RISD Museum, The Extraordinary Rendition Band, and Rhode Island Artists: Deborah Hickey, Keri King, Liz Zito, Joshua Lantzy, Amy Small, and Michael Gore and interviewees:  Ann Hood,  David Crossley, Len Cabral, Vanessa Gilbert and Erik Gould.

I WAS THERE is an Arts Immersion residency that values Place, Oral History and Experiential Learning at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point.  Our 4th, 5th, and upper grade students with differing abilities have spent the past seven months exploring creative self-expression within the context of the rich history of Fox Point, Providence, Rhode Island.

I WAS THERE 2013 is made possible by our generous supporters:  Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, and The John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage at Brown University.

IWT Begins!

2012 December 14
by sarita

We’re off to a successful start on this year’s IWT Project! Our class discussions for the first two weeks were driven by this question: “What is self-expression?” Students impressed us with their knowledge of so many different ways that people can express themselves. Among their lists of different modes of self-expression were writing, drawing, and painting. We also discussed the idea that self-expression is a way telling stories about important people, places, and objects.

We helped students generate ideas for how they might tell stories about themselves through writing, drawing, and painting. Students composed “Where I’m From” poems in the style of George Ella Lyon and created illustrations to enhance the stories told through their words. Their writing and illustrations provided a great intro to help us get to know them better!

Not everyone got to finish their poems, so hopefully we’ll get time to finish them, type them neatly, and prepare them for presentation in May. But in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at some excerpts:

Mr. Gustafson’s 4th Grade Class

I am from a blond couch, my grandfather’s pool,

From a log cabin that smells of turkey and pine.

I am from Rosie Rosinthal, Roseagna and Ro Ro.

I am from the smell of nail polish and the sound of the fire crackling,

The taste of my mom’s burnt broccoli and hot cocoa with marshmallows.



I am from hot pancakes and honey,

From fresh grass and mountains.

I am from sheep and the smell of cow poop,

Farms and animals, ducks and swans.

I am from haunted castles and ghostly stories.

I am from Secret beaches and adventures,

From birds and wind and rain.

I’m from wetness, dew and sunshine,

From clovers and pines green and pink.

I’m from the dance of the dance

And the music of bag pipes.



Mrs. Giramma’s 5th grade class

“Self-expression is a way of expressing yourself. It is a way of showing others the true you, what you like, and your personality. Any way you like to express yourself is a form of self-expression. No self-expression is wrong. All self-expression is right. The way you choose to express yourself is your choice. You might choose to sing, dance, act, or even draw. These expressions will let others know who you are.” ~Caroline


“Self-expression means being brave and telling about yourself.” ~Michael


“My work shows and describes my house in a fantastical setting. I used colors and words to paint and write a vivid display. My poetry and picture mix realism and fantasy, resulting in expression of myself.” ~ Ethan


“My work tells a story about me because it explains my life in a whole new way. One of the lines of my poetry is, “I am from oceans, palm trees, and coconuts.” ~Daisy

I am from tornadoes in New Orleans,

From Monopoly with my cousin at Uncle Ceasar’s house.

I’m from the east in Portugal where they decorate with flowers on the ground,

from saints, Saint Fatima, Saint Joseph, and Jesus.

I’m from Walt Disney in Florida with Mickey Mouse and King Kong.



I am from my dad’s stories of his childhood,

And his curly brown hair which used to

Be mine and my mom’s milkdud eyes which now I own.



“My work tells a story about me because it states what I love and hate, where I’ve been and where I wanna go, and all the crazy things that have happened in my life. My poem and drawing represent self expression beause I got to act out in words and writing how I feel and how I am. What I like about IWT so far is how I can let my imagination run wild. From adding crazy color to a normal drawing or twisting my words into the most amazing things. I really can’t wait for the upcoming play and more awesome crafts.” ~Catherine

I am from tomato sauce, Italian sausage, and tofu,

From vegetarians to actresses.

I am from a busy day to lots of fun.

I am from a life full of fake eyelashes,

And blisters, smelling gasoline to grass,

Sewing needles and hot glue guns, being

Called Caye to the kit-kat candy.

I am from falling leaves to old oak trees,

From mud pies to big blue eyes.

I’m from water colors to old big brothers

Whose life is made to hurt me,

From water balloon fights to up late nights.

I’m from missing dog signs and hop scotch lines.

From homemade pizzies to spinach pies.

I’m from crazy hair to double black dog dares,

From ramen noodles to drawing doodles,

Eating pies to finding lcouds in the sky. From riding my bike to camping hikes, and going from sloppy joes to lots of snow, from my bedazzling machine to homemade ice cream.

I am from these moments—

These are the moments that made me, me

And they always will be.



Mrs. Fish’s 5th Grade Class

I am from the bright, colorful lights

From greasy, delicious Chinese take-out and rainbow-sprinkled ice cream.

I am from the smell of cars and parks.

The laughing, cars honking.

I am from the comfort of knowing I’m never alone,

Always surrounded by the people of the city. My family, my sister, mom and dad. The family of all the city.

I am from Leni’s former pre-school, homes not houses,

From short days as a baby in my mom’s art studio.

I’m from shopping; always, sock monkeys, tall buildings

From big potted plants, sidewalks

I’m from tidy apartments and traveling often and “To each his own.”

I’m from loving my home city, from friendly faces and famous faces.

From artificial blooming flowers, and home-cooked meals.



I am from the high bluffs,

From the super soft warm sand.

I’m from the huge waves and the small tidepools filled with creatures,

From the big crabs pinching me, ouch!

I’m from waterfire, fishing on big blue lakes, from a nice community,

And from origami flapping cranes.

I’m from Vartan Gregorian,

The school of nice teachers.

From good friends, enjoyable classes, good grades, long recesses, and funny jokes.

I’m from the state with Nibles woodaway the big blue bug,

From dells lemonade on hot days.



I am from Beth Israel Hospital

From the home of the Celtics

I am from the first thirteen to the tallest building in the world

I am from Sprite to Fanta to Crush

I am from the union

From the Democrat party.

I’m from Buffalo wings to pizza,

From the TD and Madison Square Garden

I’m from the red, white and blue to the Navy Airforce.



I am from the sea-salt in the turquoise ocean

From my brand-new drumset without the cymbols.

I am from a band whose colors are red, white, and shiny.

I am from musical instruments, from a drumset to a trumpet, from the sound of a band playing.

I am from fresh dough boys and cotton candy at a carnial,

From Christmas nights and Chinese food.



Mr. Ricci’s 5th Grade Class

In my opinion, self-expression is a way to show your true colors. Whether you’re singing and dancing on Broadway or making a stop motion movie in your garage, there are so many different ways to show self expression. In essence it’s a way to portray yourself and what you think of the world around you in art (I Was There is a perfectly stellar example of this!)


I am from the broken knife every Thanksgiving,

From art and Lane Smith,

From dying my hair blue and a disapproving family.

I am from playing soccer and having fun,

From texting and shopping,

I’m from particle x.bxy325la225,

From physics and the study of microns.

I’m from shago manga,

From books that are backwards.



I am from the odd icey moments of December 31st,

From rap, and hip-hop music.

I am from fresh snow and hot chocolate.

From the cool breeze blowing through the air like Christmas day.

I am from children yelling and big foot steps,

From hot and ready bacon pizza and collard greens.

I’m from stupid nicknames,

From dancing and singing,

From weddings and surprises, and

Twists and turns, from mom yelling for us to do our job,

From “Babygirl, come wash these dishes.”

I’m from headaches and medicine.



I am from peach trees and corn,

From drawings on walls

I am from a 2 small bedroom house,

From crowded streets with many people,

And tall traffic lights that turn red to green.

I am from chasing snowflakes with my tongue,

From making snowmen so tall and big and adding rocks and branches for arms and eyes.

I’m from jumping from couch to couch to get away from “lava.”

From soft grass and flower crowns and picnics

In the garden

And my teddy bears keeping me safe from

The “bed monsters.”

I am from eating rice cakes for another thankful year.



I am from a green house next to a cherry tree covered in ivy,

From breaking branches and falling out.

I am from a love of gymnastics with flips and twirls,

And lots of noise everywhere.

I am from seeing waves crashing on rocks,

From a cold beach walking on the dry sand.

I am from eating 7 grapes on new years day for good luck and good fortune.



I am from the day after the Twin Towers incident,

I’m from my baby blanket, my mom’s old stuffed animals, and my gold ring.

From going to England 9 times, and Spain once.

I’m from salty big oceans, and little brown minnows, annoying sticky sand, and warm fun summers.

I’m from fresh calamari, and the salty Mediterranean,

Seagulls, and hard accents, most of all, family.

~ Ava


I am from the smell of spicey and sweet filippino food,

From my grandparents who love and care,

I am from purple, droopy Japanese maples.

Their roots that grip around the ground.

I am from waves crashing on shore and splashing the very tips of rocks.



I am from the musty air in the outside garage,

From the cats running away after we start the car

I am from the chirping bird pecking at the bird feeder

I am from the waves lapping on the old sailboat and beach

I am from the cold wind whipping my face,

From the sea spray splashing on the boat rigging

I’m from the red cherries hidden in the bright green leaves.

I’m from the rickety bed bending when I jump on it.


2012-2013: “Over a Century of Expressing Ourselves!”

2012 November 7
by IWT Team

This year, IWT will explore various art forms that have been practiced in Fox Point, by the people that immigrated there, lived there, and moved on from there. Our 4th and 5th grade and upper grade special education students will begin their immersion in learning about how arts and culture existed in the Fox Point area, starting with Edgar Allan Poe, who visited the area many times, to the varied artistic and cultural traditions brought to Fox Point by Irish, Cape Verdean, Portuguese and other immigrant communities.

Students will be introduced to the vaudeville of early 20th century, in honor of George M. Cohan, the Cape Verdean Cultural Center on Wickenden Street that storyteller, Len Cabral and others founded in the 1970s, the Wickenden Street Processions featuring the Holy Rosary Marching Band, and end with studies of the contemporary arts scene. IWT Co-teachers, Sarita Rich and Lisa Melmed will lead students in researching the local history of the arts and humanities (including literature, music, theater, and architecture) as they relate to Fox Point. Then students will conduct oral history interviews to learn from a host of multi-generational, multi-ethnic women and men—artists, historians, writers, and residents, who have ties to the arts in Fox Point. Artists we hope to interview are Ann Hood, Barnaby Evans, and Len Cabral, among others. The social justice component to this year’s project will ask: Who gets to make art and who can experience it?

The arts immersion portion of Expressing Ourselves will consist of 4 four-week artists’ residences in the art forms of music, vaudevillian theater, literature, and architectural photography. Artists will come to the classrooms during the residency periods and give students hands-on experience in their particular medium, and will explore and honor the art form as it was practiced in its era.  Deb Hickey, will show students the processes of capturing, developing, and presenting their own unique architectural photography; Sarita Rich will help students generate ideas for writing literature based on historic landmarks in Fox Point; students will produce a performance with their theatre artist, and a member of the Extraordinary Rendition Band (ERB) will lead students in making their own processional music and instruments.

At the IWT final event, we will invite the community to “walk down the Wickenden Street of the past.” Guests will move in and out of areas such as “George M. Cohan Way”, where students perform vaudevillian theater. Folks will peak into a live Artist Salon where Edgar Allen Poe, Avi and Ann Hood read selections from their books, and wander into an “Art Gallery Opening” where historical buildings of Fox Point are displayed. Finally, our own Vartan Gregorian Processional Band (trained by the Providence’s own ERB) will lead students and guests through the building.

Technology voting results!

2012 May 7
by Genise

Here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for–the results of Thursday evening’s technology vote!

After tallying all the ballots, one food technology invention took the cake in an overwhelming number of voters’ minds: THE REFRIGERATOR

Second place went to THE MICROWAVE OVEN while THE ICE CREAM MAKER took third.

Thanks for voting everyone! Remember to show your refrigerator some love.

Prepping for May 3rd!

2012 April 25
by IWT Team

What are you working on today?

I am working on making a box to put money in for Edesia to help kids in Africa who have malnutrition. They hardly have anything to eat and their arms are as skinny as your thumb. The doctor is very far away (like 3 days away in walking distance) and there isn’t much he can do at that point and anyone can help by just giving spare change in your pocket to help. It makes a HUGE diference.

I love food and I love this project.

Catherine, grade 5

IWT 2012 May 3rd Final Event

2012 April 19
Comments Off
by Genise

Please join us for a celebration of

I WAS THERE 2012 | A Taste of Home

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Vartan Gregorian Elementary School at Fox Point
455 Wickenden St, Providence, RI


I WAS THERE 2012 celebrates the food culture of Fox Point and greater Providence. Featuring student-authored Memoir Cookbook signing, Country Fair booths, poetry readings, and tastings from local restaurants and bakeries (including Abyssinia, Fellini’s Pizza, Silver Star Bakery, Tea in Sahara, The Ugly American and Wayland Bakery), A Taste of Home is the culmination of a yearlong oral history and arts-integration residency program with our 4th and 5th grade students.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact the I WAS THERE team at info@iwasthereproject.org.

IWT in East Side Monthly!!!

2012 April 17
by Genise

Check out the article on I WAS THERE in this month’s issue of East Side Monthly! Thank you, Jill Davidson, for the lovely piece.

illustration from East Side Monthly

photo by Jessica Pollak

P.S. The print version of the article lists May 6-8 as the final event dates; the actual final event date is May 3rd, 6-8PM. We hope to see you there!

Finishing Food Fashion

2012 April 9
by IWT Team

This has been an interesting part of 4th grade. We have been working on writing our interview with Johnny Costa. We have also been working on making cardboard robots & clothes. We have 2 different groups, each group takes a turn doing writing & making things out of cardboard. For the last 4 weeks, we have been writing. Then, just 2 weeks ago, we moved to art. Next week we have… VACATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Finished food fashion!


2012 March 26
by IWT Team

Right now we’re trying to make shoes out of tinfoil and duct tape. So far we only have the shoe base and the toe part. That’s because it’s very hard shaping and making sure the shoes are alike and as close as we can to getting them life size.

It’s very hard making these but it’s coming out well. We just finished the left shoe but ran out of duct tape. We are bringing them home to work on them.

Coco and Phoebe, grade 4

More Food Fashion!

2012 March 19
by IWT Team

Tell us about your contribution to your class’s centerpiece!

Well, we  are  making a dress out of food supplies! We picked Darla Warlick’s dress because it had a cool theme to it. The theme was ORANGES!!  So now we are putting it all together and then we are going to try to see it and put it on! First we are making the easy parts. After we are done we are going to start the main part (like the dress theme). Second we are going to put all the small parts together with the dress. But it’s gonna take a while so stay tuned!

Emily D., grade 4