Most people were happy to see the John E. Fogarty Building torn down. The structure was a concrete box on Fountain Street. But Caroline Stevens appreciated those rows of gray window frames, and so did more than 30 others – so they arranged a “funeral,” complete with an obituary, memorial poem, and a kazoo parade.
“We’re trying to connect people to place,” says Caroline, who founded Doors Open RI in 2017. “We’re constantly trying to do new and interesting things.”
As the Fogarty funeral proves, Doors Open RI isn’t your boilerplate city tour; it’s funky and experimental, and Caroline seems born for this role. A native of Washington, DC, Caroline lived for several years in Illinois, where she was hired to coordinate the first Open House Chicago. Caroline studied art history at Beloit College, and she has always loved scouting urban spaces; today, Open House Chicago incorporates hundreds of venues and draws tens of thousands of people.
“This model for citywide open house festivals is practiced around the world,” says Caroline. “You try to think of a city as a museum.”
The first Doors Open RI Festival invited participants to poke around Providence, such as the 200-year-old dome of the Beneficent Congregational Church. The second edition will take place in Pawtucket and Central Falls.
“I just wanted to explore a new place,” says Caroline. “I think radiating out from Providence is a good strategy. Our name is Doors Open Rhode Island. I want to make good on the Rhode Island part.”
This one-day festival will take visitors through both towns, and the stops are diverse: There’s Slater Mill, of course, but there’s also 238 Main Street, a long-abandoned commercial building with a glass dome. The festival will return to Providence in 2020, but Caroline loves to celebrate less-famous sites across the state, and more regularly.
“Usually these events are just the one annual festival,” she says. “But I’m trying to build something that has other programs throughout the year.”
Caroline herself looks forward to Cogswell Tower, a stone clock that rises out of a Central Falls hilltop. Completed in 1904, Cogswell looks like a castle wreathed in an iron grille.
“It’s a tower that sits atop a natural grotto,” says Caroline. “To me, this encapsulates what Doors Open is all about. It’s just too cool.” The Doors Open RI Festival takes place September 28 at various locations.