2018-11-29 / Around Town

Street Performers Bring Washington Square to Life

By Mark Gorman

Kelly Clemens Kelly Clemens If you have meandered through Washington Square during the last year or two, chances are good you’ve happened upon street performers dancing, singing or posing as statue art. Newport This Week sat down with artist Kelly Clemens, the driving force behind the Washington Square Street Performers, to learn more about her efforts to bring outdoor art to this section of the city.

Clemens, a talent agent, visual artist and video producer, was motivated to bring street performance to Newport after a trip to Cuba.

“I was inspired by the creativity there,” she said. “Cuban music naturally makes you want to move and it was inspiring to dance and see people dance in the streets. There were human statue artists and flamenco dancers as well.”

As we’ve noted in previous articles, misconceptions about the legality of street performing, or “busking,” in Newport were rampant, and Clemens set out to learn what was allowed. Liz Drayton, of the Newport Opera House, suggested she meet with Ward 2 councilor Lynn Ceglie and former mayor, Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. What she discovered was eye-opening.

Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. “It turns out that the illegal part was a myth all along,” she said.

Armed with the knowledge that street performance is a constitutionally protected First Amendment right, Clemens then sought guidance from the Newport Police Department. She learned that the restrictions on street performance include no blocking of vehicle or pedestrian traffic and no loud amplified music. Once Clemens got the blessing of the city, she was on her way.

Her vision of what Washington Square can be is exciting.

“Washington Square is a sleeping beauty,” she said. “In the past two years, [we’ve been creating] a cool-vibe destination between Broadway and the wharves. This is the heart of the developing and promising Theatre District that the city has always deserved. Bringing art and performance to the intimacy of the street level is the goal of the Washington Square Street Performers.”

Two years ago, Clemens and her husband, Clint, produced imagery for Island Moving Company. The images you see on the second floor of Washington Square are part of that project. Most important, Clemens has collaborated with businesses in the square to help bring her vision to life.

“Stephanie Taylor of Lululemon in Newport was a big help in organizing the social media needs,” she said. “Kathy Staab, owner of Jane Pickens Theatre, and the folks at Stoneacre Brasserie were excited about their patrons being able to walk out onto the sidewalk after a film or dinner to enjoy even more entertainment before going home.”

Rather than publishing a schedule of street performances, Clemens prefers to keep things unannounced. “Who knows what will show up next? There is a beauty to spontaneous performance and chance encounters by folks on the street as they experience these artists and musicians,” she said.

One possible upcoming street performance could include Christmas caroling. “I like to say that we’re only limited by our imaginations,” she said.

To learn more, visit Washington Square Street Performers on Facebook or washingtonsquareperformers on Instagram.

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