In 1974, Interface: Providence was a joint project with the Architecture Department of the Rhode Island School of Design that reimagined downtown Providence as a walking-friendly city center enriched by a landscape of historic buildings. This visionary project brought a fresh approach to urban renewal that incorporated the emerging discipline of historic preservation and set the tone for a succession of subsequent Council grants in support of sustainable placemaking and revitalizing the city of Providence.
It is remarkable to realize the RI Council for the Humanities helped fund Interface: Providence with its very first cycle of funding. This RISD architecture project had received major support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) but with a requirement to secure local matching grants. Two new organizations whose missions were only partly aligned stepped up to support the project: the Providence Foundation—a new consortium of downtown business owners—and the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities, as the RI Council was first called—a then new and experimental non-profit. The “Interface: Providence” grant was a test case for the role of the state council as a new kind of community-based change agent.