EarthFirst by FirstWorks gets rave reviews

By Deborah Drew

What do you think of when you hear STEAM-based arts learning? Do you conjure images of performers and plays that emulate trees, and fungi, and whooping cranes with American Indian guides that teach students about sustainability, climate change, and the stewardship of outdoor spaces? If you do, then you know FirstWorks!

Based in Providence, Rhode Island, FirstWorks’ mission is to build community – culturally, economically, and educationally – through arts and education programs that enrich the fabric of Rhode Island through world-class performing arts and education programs. As the leading strategic arts partner for the City of Providence, FirstWorks has collaborated with more than 90 community organizations on projects that highlight diverse artists and reach diverse audiences. Central to its mission is a powerful, accessible, and equitable arts-integrated learning program benefiting low-income students in grades K- 12 in over 30 underresourced Rhode Island schools in communities that include Providence, Central Falls, Newport County and Pawtucket through a multi-tiered approach covering school-time performances and arts-related activities.

Last year, with Foundation support, FirstWorks launched EarthFirst– programming that links arts with environmental-learning and awareness. The season kicked off at PVDFest – Providence’s multi-day signature festival on the city’s plaza and celebration of creativity – with a Foundation supported “Cycle Sonic” performance that promoted energy-efficiency, environmental stewardship and exercise through an inventive and unique bicycle performance. Later in the year, FirstWorks premiered two additional creative and enchanting environmental performances: Pilobolus and Ajijaak.


Before an audience of approximately 1,000 students, the Pilobolus dance company performed Branches — tied to the natural sciences and a strong STEAM resource – entirely scored using natural sounds with videos interspersed through the interpretative, innovative dance. The show features performers who are talented contortionists that imitated trees, tree movements and trees’ interaction with surrounding species. It also taught students about the troupe’s name: Pilobolus, which is a fungus that can shoot its spores great distances. Certainly, a lesson in force and acceleration, as a start, but also a lesson about spreading the seeds of expression through movement.

Ajijaak on Turtle Island

A second EarthFirst performance featured the work of environmentalist and visionary puppet artist Heather Henson (the youngest child of legendary puppeteer Jim Henson) and IBEX Puppetry. Their presentation of “Ajijaak on Turtle Island” tells the story of a young whooping crane who must undertake her first migration alone after being separated from her family. Her journey is disrupted by environmental, industrial, and mythical impediments, but, the indigenous communities she meets help and inspire her. This performance incorporates Native American rituals and contemporary ceremony to reflect our connectedness with the environment.

To find out more about FirstWorks, Please visit:

About National Grid Foundation

National Grid Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to improving the quality of life, economic strength and environmental stewardship in National Grid’s service territory. The Foundation’s mission is to create opportunities for solutions to today’s educational and environmental challenges. By awarding grants to non-profits, the Foundation inspires and serves as a catalyst to a shared future, ultimately impacting and improving lives of the underserved in our neighborhoods.
In December 1998, KeySpan Energy formed KeySpan Foundation to enhance community giving efforts. Now known as National Grid Foundation, the organization has provided more than $25 million in grants to approximately 1,000 organizations in local communities.

To find out more about the National Grid Foundation visit:

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