Spotlight: A conversation with the Executive Director of the Tomaquag Museum

Woman speaking into a microphone
Lorén M. Spears, Narragansett, Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum

To learn more about Lorén M. Spears’ work at the Tomaquag Museum, the RI Expansion Arts Program sat down with Lorén, Narragansett, Executive Director of Tomaquag Museum and a member of the RI Arts Council. She holds a master’s in Education and received a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Rhode Island for her dedicated work. She is an author, traditional artist and shares her cultural knowledge with the public through museum programs.

RIEAP: You have served so many roles in the community. What have been some of the most meaningful moments during your career as an educator, activist, author and/or artist?

Lorén: The most meaningful moment was the creation of the Nuweetooun School. It was impactful for my own personal children, other tribal children and children in general attending the school. I think that was important as it integrated all the things I do as an educator, activist, and traditional knowledge person or someone who passes down information from one generation to another. In the Tomaquag Museum, I also play an external role through the work I do with the creation of the Indigenous Empowerment Network, which is intended to create opportunity for Indigenous people through job training and development, entrepreneurship, educational and cultural opportunities in the arts, traditional cultural knowledge, environmental sustainability and advocacy. One of my most important roles is acting as a bridge between the Indigenous community and their cultural knowledge to the general public. Through the Tomaquag Museum and the Indigenous Empowerment Network, we act as a bridge for the Native community but also educate through our programs, partnership, collaboration, and professional development on cultural competency, anti-racism, equity and justice.

Read the rest of the interview and learn more about the Tomaquag Museum’s origin and its new 18 acre expansion.

FAQs on the latest information for re-opening for the arts

The RI Arts Council hosted a webinar on April 9, 2021, to update the arts community on the latest rules and regulations regarding re-opening for the arts this spring and summer. If you missed it, here is a link to the recording. Below are the questions and answers that were covered in the webinar.

The speakers were:
Department of Health, Steven Boudreau;
Commerce RI Benjamin Mays;
City of Providence, ProvidenceACT: Lizzie Araujo;
and Department of Business Regulation, Elizabeth Tanner.

Keep checking back here for updates. Also, sign up for our newsletter for the latest information.

FAQs Re-opening for the arts

Outdoor Events

Q: What are current restrictions on outdoor performances? Number of attendees, distancing and masks? How does the size of the space influence any and all of these factors?

A: Outdoor performances are restricted to the same capacity requirements as outdoor venues of assembly which are currently capped at 500 people. Six-foot distancing must always be maintained between people who are not from the same household and masks must always be worn.

Size of the area does not impact the capacity restrictions and 500 people is the maximum any outdoor venue of assembly can go up to. However, with the 6-foot distancing requirement, not all outdoor venues will be able to accommodate 500 people. The 6 foot-distancing requirement takes precedence over the 500-person maximum.

Q: What should we know about performers operating outdoors in front of an audience? Choral and instrumental spacing on stage? Masked or unmasked?

A: While performers are singing or playing an instrument that requires the use of their mouth, modify or adjust seating arrangements and use visual cues to keep them at least 14 feet apart when masks are not being worn.

Performers singing or playing wind instruments with masks on and using bell covers should be a minimum of six feet apart. If performers are masked and playing an instrument that does not require the use of their mouth, such as drums, guitar, violin etc., keep them six feet apart, but 14 feet apart from those who are using their mouths to play an instrument or sing without a mask. This includes specialty music performance masks such as masks with slits, or in outdoor rehearsals where appropriate physical distancing may be challenging or inconsistent, such as marching band.

Limit the sharing of props, costumes, and wigs. Designate personal props to each individual and mark with name tags. No sharing of voice projecting mechanisms such as microphones or headpieces. Even microphones and headpieces used by only one person should be disinfected after use.

Q: Do you have guidance on things like box office operations, food service (for audience and for performers, with masks off)? Organized in pods or general seating?

A: Contactless payment is encouraged. If food or drink is being served, designated areas should be created away from the general audience where patrons are able to remove their masks for eating and drinking purposes. These areas should follow the same restrictions that are placed on the restaurant sector.

Q: What are reopening guidelines for summer 2021 youth camps?

A: They are pending and should be available shortly. Subscribe to our e-newsletter where we will place updates or check back here for updates.

Indoor Events

Q: If we are in compliance with regulations, when will indoor performances be able to resume? What questions should we be considering as we start to think about in-person events once more?

A: Indoor performances can resume following the same restrictions that are placed on venues of assembly.

Q: What are current restrictions on indoor performances or art exhibits? Number of attendees, distancing, masks? How does the size of the space influence any and all of these factors?

A: In both performance venues and art exhibits, 6-foot distancing must always be maintained between people who are not from the same household. Indoor performance venues would be classified as venues of assembly.

Currently venues of assembly are restricted to 50 percent of the venues capacity and capped at 250 indoors and 500 outdoors. With the 6-foot distancing requirement, some venues may not be able to achieve the 50 percent capacity or capped thresholds.

Indoor art exhibits are restricted to one person per 50 square feet.

Q: Are there any differences among the kinds of performances? For example, youth theatre, dance, instrumental or choral music?

A: No

Ventilated/Unventilated spaces

Q: What are HVAC requirements for summer – small spaces with old air conditioning units or are poorly ventilated?

A: Individual venues should consult with the Department of Business Regulations with the specifics of their current HVAC capabilities.

Q: Will performers need to wear masks when they are off stage?

A: Yes, performers must wear masks when they are off stage.

Social distancing

Q: what are some best practices for audiences? If patrons are seated more than six feet apart, is it okay for them to remove masks?

A: No, even if the social distancing requirement is maintained at six feet, masks cannot be removed and must be worn throughout the duration of the event.

People from the same household may sit within 6 feet of one another, but those who are not from the same household must be sat at least 6 feet apart from one another.

Q: What guidelines exist for cleaning and disinfecting?

A: All covered entities shall ensure the performance of environmental cleaning of their establishments once per day, with particular attention paid to commonly touched surfaces, such as shared workstations, elevator buttons, door handles and railings. Covered entities shall use, and have readily available to service providers, cleaning/disinfecting products designed to clean/disinfect the surfaces they are cleaning/disinfecting and shall use the products in the manner intended.

Vaccinated, Tested, Infected

Q: Do you recommend testing prior to rehearsals or performances? Will proof of vaccination replace proof of a negative COVID test result?

A: The Health Department continues to recommend testing even for rehearsals and performances. Currently, proof of vaccination does not replace a negative COVID test.

Q: Are there any guidelines about distancing if all performers have been vaccinated? or if not?

A: The Executive Order currently in place mandates that six feet be maintained from people who are not from the same household regardless of vaccination status. Even those who have been vaccinated, should stay 6 feet apart from those who are not from the same household as them.

Q: If a performer, student or staff member tests positive for COVID, will the program or production need to be shut down for a period of time?

A: Depending on who is identified as a close contact of the person who has tested positive, the program or production may need to suspend operations.

Anyone who was within six feet of the positive individual for a total of 15 minutes or more, starting two days before their symptom onset or before a positive test was received, is identified as a close contact and must follow the quarantine guidelines. Current exemptions from close contact quarantine can be found in Executive Order 21-26.

Q: Can/should a venue collect written vaccination status from performers, staff, volunteers and audience members, and is this even allowable? how does one handle a non-vaccinated person?

A: We are not proposing this at this time.

If things go bad

Q: Can you share some force majeure contract language that specifically relates to COVID and capacity limits perhaps being changed if an uptick occurs?

A: All the current mitigation measures that are put into place and all the steps we have taken in reopening the economy can be scaled back if our public health measures do so require them to be. We want people to have the freedom of being able to plan their events and performances, but these plans must always have the caveat that there are back-up plans if capacity restrictions are reduced, or more strict mitigation requirements are put into place. We encourage individuals and event organizers to remain flexible. Whatever current capacity restrictions and mitigation measures are in the Executive Order at the time of your event are the ones you should follow and adhere to.

Additional information links and forms:

7 RI Providence arts organizations to receive $145,000 in National Endowment for the Arts grants

NEA supports the Arts with over $27.5 Million in Awards in First Round of FY2021 Funding

Providence RI —The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced today the first round of recommended awards for fiscal year 2021 of more than $27.5 million with $145,000 divided among seven Providence-based arts organizations.

The following lists the Providence arts organizations receiving grants:

  • Alliance of Artists Communities, $25,000.
  • Dirt Palace, $10,000.
  • DownCity Design, $30,000.
  • New Urban Arts, $10,000.
  • Providence Children’s Museum, $20,000.
  • Rhode Island School of Design, $35,000.
  • Trinity Repertory Company $15,000.

The NEA supported projects span 14 artistic disciplines in communities throughout the United States. Also, included in this announcement are the recipients of NEA Literature Fellowships in creative writing and translation and support for arts research projects.

“The arts remain critical to our economy and culture. I am pleased to help deliver federal funding for local arts organizations and artists to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 and associated closures,” said Senator Jack Reed.

“Rhode Island’s exceptional artists and performers continue to face significant challenges as the pandemic has forced venues, galleries, and museums to remain closed. These federal funds will help keep arts organizations afloat until restrictions can be safely lifted and we can get back to enjoying the arts in person. And we’re working hard to provide more relief through the bill whose path to passage we cleared in the wee hours of Friday morning,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

“When Rhode Island’s wonderful arts and culture institutions thrive, our local artists and communities thrive,” said Congressman Langevin. “The COVID crisis has heightened challenges for many local organizations, and we continue our work to ensure they weather the storm and can keep offering invaluable community programming and resources. I’m deeply appreciative of RISCA’s commitment to our local artists and congratulate the grantees, who I know will add to the vibrancy of the Creative Capital.”

“Rhode Island’s arts community is second to none. Every day, artists create, inspire and entertain us, while also generating millions of dollars in economic activity that support jobs across the Ocean State,” said U.S. Representative David Cicilline. “I’m pleased that this new federal funding will provide critical resources to some of Rhode Island’s leading arts organizations so that they can continue their important work.”

Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA), expressed gratitude for the federal support Rhode Island arts organizations receive from the National Endowment for the Arts. “These federal dollars provide greater access to the arts for all Rhode Islanders,” Rosenbaum said. “This investment contributes to the cultural vitality and economy of our state, and we thank our amazing Congressional delegation and friends at the Arts Endowment for their help.”

“The creativity and resilience of artists and arts organizations across the country have inspired Americans during this challenging year,” said Arts Endowment Acting Chairman Ann Eilers. “These projects represent the vitality and perseverance of arts organizations small and large to overcome significant challenges, transform to new ways of engagement, and forge new relationships that benefit the diverse populations in neighborhoods and cities throughout the United States.”

  • Click here to view a state-by-state listing of all the grants announced in this release.
  • Click here to view a listing of awards by discipline/grant category
  • Click here for a list of the panelists who reviewed the applications for funding

The Grants for Arts Projects (GAP) awards range from $10,000 to $100,000 and cover these artistic disciplines: Artist Communities, Arts Education, Dance, Design, Folk & Traditional Arts, Literary Arts, Local Arts Agencies, Media Arts, Museums, Music, Musical Theater, Opera, Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works, Theater, and Visual Arts. In February 2020, the agency received 1,674 eligible GAP applications requesting more than $82.4 million in FY 2021 support. Approved for funding are 1,073 projects totaling nearly $25 million, with grants recommended to 64% of all applicants and an average grant amount of $23,190. Grant guidelines and upcoming application deadlines are now available on the Arts Endowment website for organizations wishing to apply.

The Arts Endowment is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and fostering mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all individuals and groups. Part of this commitment includes our partnership with the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Many supported projects are currently working in a virtual space. This is also true for the panel process. Once applications are submitted to the agency for consideration and staff have reviewed them for eligibility and completeness, a panel of dedicated experts with knowledge and experience in their field review and score each application in accordance with the published review criteria. Recommendations are then made to the National Council on the Arts. The council makes recommendations to the Chairman, who makes the final decision on all grant awards. The Arts Endowment assembles diverse panels every year with regard to geography, race and ethnicity, and artistic points of view. To learn more about the process  or to volunteer as a panelist.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more.