The Providence Athenaeum is one of sixteen surviving membership libraries founded across America between 1731 and the Civil War. In the face of centuries of harsh ambivalence about the proper role of the state in supporting the arts and humanities, these independent civic institutions are an enduring response to the uniquely American private non-profit approach to funding culture.
Historic membership libraries offer public programming and are open to new members. They can be supported in these cities across the United States: Providence, Newport, New Haven, New York, Boston, Salem, Portsmouth (NH), Portland (ME), Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Tyron (NC), Charleston (SC), La Jolla (CA), and San Francisco. Links are posted on the Providence Athenaeum website: www.providenceathenaeum.org
Ongoing since its founding, the Providence Athenaeum has lived a theory of time that gives density to place and memory across generations. In 1838, the community moved from a few rooms in the downtown Providence Arcade (1828) to their permanent home at the south-east corner of Benefit St and College Hill, on the East Side of the city. From this location the Providence Athenaeum has offered an open door for the lifelong learner and a haven for the solitary pursuit of self-culture. Sometimes it has been an incubator of radical reform as like-minds implement a plan for change. For others, the Athenaeum is about opportunities for shared social exchange and the making of community. One current marker of this vitality would be the Providence Athenaeum’s Friday night Salon series - unleashed on the city in 2005 under the inspired leadership of Christina Bevilacqua – providing a widely emulated template for place-based conversations. New technology has not diminished the hunger for the tangible.
© Nancy Austin, 2010