Nancy Gaucher-Thomas: The centrality of art

  Living in Rhode Island for the past 20 years has been a great experience for me. Accessibility is key. People, no matter what their socio-economic status, are accessible and available to offer their expertise and help in making Rhode Island a better place. This is the single greatest thing about our state.

Because of this accessibility, we have the potential to make things happen very quickly.

As an artist with a background in advertising, I see the possibilities and those possibilities are what keep me here. I see the enthusiasm in friends and colleagues as they speak about Rhode Island and why it is a special place. The resounding answer is always: Rhode Island has everything. It is a place rich in culture, steeped in history, with some of the best learning institutions in the world, and a true melting pot surrounded by beautiful sea and landscapes.

How important are the arts to Rhode Islanders? What can we say about the arts that hasn’t already been said? Do people really “get it”? Given my experience with many different arts organizations and artists, and the fact that Rhode Island’s population is heavily composed of people working in the various art sectors, I think they do get it.

Art can have amazing power to foster collaboration between different societies and cultures. Art can be a powerful way to bring communities together. Art is powerful in its simplicity. It can convey ideas across classes and cultures because of its lack of reliance on language. This makes it one of the most powerful tools of communication.

In fact, research proves that a greater focus on the arts in a city creates social cohesion and better civic engagement. Creation of community art helps citizens work together to create shared visions of their ideals, values and hopes for the future. The arts bring people together, all shapes and sizes, ethnic backgrounds, religions; there are no barriers. Artists think big, they have big ideas and can implement them with the help of other artists and creative types and organizations. Artists are quite often one step ahead of everyone else in seeing the big picture. Artists are enthusiastic about getting involved, collaborating with others to make an even bigger impact on how the state is seen and perceived.

Art is an important way to document our collective present so that future generations may have greater understanding of our ways of thinking, values and more. Reaching back into time, the cave paintings of prehistoric times provide one of the last few glimpses of how these people lived and of their religious and moral values. Art is a deceptively simple way to access cultures that might otherwise be forgotten.

Art has long been a tool of protest and an inciter of social change. Art also has the capacity to heal, as therapeutic art is now commonly used to alleviate psychological trauma.

As Rhode Island moves into a more defined outreach for tourism, as well as economic development, with an effort to welcome the biotech sector in a more unified way, we will see art take its place to inspire, promote and communicate as our state ventures forth, as it has since its founding, with creating new opportunities and inviting others to join in.

I am proud to play my part to encourage the bringing of art to the table at the beginning, middle and end of our processes. As the founder of the Art League of Rhode Island, I see such integration as the soul of our mission. As the founder, along with Rhode Island artist Gretchen Dow-Simpson, of the Fourth Annual Arts Marketplace: Pawtucket, I look forward to welcoming more than 50 artists from throughout the region this Sept. 26 and 27 to the Pawtucket Arts Armory (

These artists and those who attend this free event from throughout the state and region will be participating in, and celebrating, our state’s focus on commerce, diversity, tourism and quality of life. We will celebrate the rol that creativity can play in Rhode Island's success, now and in our future.

Nancy Gaucher-Thomas is an artist from East Greenwich, R.I. She had help writing this piece from Gretchen Dow Simpson, an artist from Providence.