Creative Capital

remembering the aurora club

It’s nighttime in downtown Providence and the fairy lights that adorn Westminster Street cast a warm glow on the faces of a small crowd of young people loitering outside a lively, though not crowded, venue. The space, former home to The Roots Cafe and the Providence Black Repertory, is none other than Aurora, “a mixed-use creative space,” which closed its doors on November 3. Since 2015, Aurora served as a homegrown locale that promised creative programming every day of the week, with events that included live music, dance and art exhibits, screenings and, as noted on their website, “other innovative events to further the intellectual and creative discourse in Providence.”

Students on College Hill are infamous for rarely venturing off campus and into the city, but on this particular night, several Brown and RISD-goers are at Aurora to attend “The Last Synth Petting Zoo Show,” an event where attendees can “pet” synthesizers (meaning they can play with and explore the synths gently, as the event’s host reminds the audience constantly over the speaker) prior to a synth-music concert. Ryan Campos, a WBRU Chief Operator, organized the event and, naturally, a crowd of WBRUnonians attended to support him.

The occasion is as cool as can be. Funky graphics and blue and green-hued lights set a relaxed, trippy atmosphere. A few people grab drinks at the bar before entering into a larger space toward the back of the venue, where the petting zoo and music show are taking place. The crowd is easy-going, its size modest at best. One can tell from merely looking around the room that people are there not just to see the synth or grab a questionably pricey (albeit delicious) drink—they are there to be in community with one another.

As I write this piece, I must admit I was not an Aurora regular, and I can’t pretend to be someone who knows Providence well, even after nearly four years of living in the city. When Aurora announced it was closing its doors at the end of October, I was taken aback. I always told myself I would go someday (Does that sound familiar?). Someday turned into someday soon, and I ended up going to the synth event with some friends in a panicked effort to witness the magic I had so often heard about before it was too late.

Aurora did not disappoint.

The Providence Journal reported that Aurora closed because of new redevelopments on Westminster Street that aim to renovate buildings into residential, retail, and office spaces. Interestingly enough, the now former owner of Aurora is also a member of the downtown property developer associates that supposedly brought forth the shutdown in the first place.

The news of Aurora’s closure broke suddenly: The venue’s schedule filled up with unique programming that lasted through the official shutdown on November 3. Events included Gay Goth Nite (a regular program and crowd favorite), a Halloween Costume Party, a “Queer Alternative Party and Drag Show,” the monthly iteration of the “Running Thru the 401” dance party, and of course, “The Last Providence Synth Petting Zoo Show.”  This programming was in addition to other nights of live music that played genres ranging from salsa to disco to metal and swing.

This is not to say that Aurora became eclectic only as it came to a close. The calendar had always provided such a diverse array of opportunities that it became the stuff of folklore for me, rivaled only by programming at AS220 just a few blocks away. I only went to Aurora once, but I, too, lament its closing, for the community that it created felt as special and tight-knit as I have witnessed in Providence. Now, only the ghost of the mixed-arts space remains, with local bloggers and artists noting the loss of the venue that will be “deeply felt,” according to the Providence Daily Dose.

I took a look at the place where the news of the shutdown first made waves, aka the Aurora Facebook page, and was delighted to find countless reviews from past Aurora-goers. The posts read more like journal entries—and together, they formed a living, breathing memoir of the times people spent in this fun, welcoming space. I was able to get a strong sense of what the Providence community will be missing, and what I myself missed by staying on The Hill for so long.

Emily Cordon Drainville gave the place a 5 star review. She threw her wedding party at Aurora, having “loved the venue, atmosphere, vibe and staff” for years. She ended her review with the words a drunk university alumnus might yell after a melancholic visit to their alma mater: “Love this place with my heart!”

In a post from 2014, right around the time Aurora was getting ready to open, Chris Daltry (5 stars) wrote: “When Providence most needed a new downtown venue, Aurora opens! We’ve needed a live music room this size for years, and now we’ve got it. Rock on, Aurora.”

Colin Ferrara, ever an optimist, wrote that Aurora was a “cool little place… every kinda crowd seems to occupy this place now and then. From goth nights to folk music nights lol… One of my faves in Providence that I am glad hasn’t closed yet.”

For yours truly, Caoytei Awndotne’s review (5 stars) was the one that resonated the most: “IT SUUUUUCKS THAT THIS PLACE IS CLOSING. COME ON PROV PEEPS — SOMEBODY GRAB THE TORCH!!!!!!!!!!!!”  

Yes, “it suuuuucks” that many of us didn’t fully participate in this magical space in the first place, and I really do hope somebody grabs the torch. For now, I’ll be heading over to AS220 and The Strand as much as I can, lest I go forth into the adult world and leave the creative capital with nothing but stories about crew house parties, spicy chicken patties with cheese, and a giant lamp-headed blue bear.