The Providence Athenaeum, known for being frequented by Edgar Allan Poe, is an independent, members-only library that has managed to stay relevant since opening in 1836. Propelling the historical institution forward is its team, including the newly appointed Director of Programs, Holly Gaboriault, a Providence native and RISD graduate who served on the Athenaeum’s board of directors before stepping in on an interim basis until she was hired.
Knowing the Athenaeum from different perspectives, Gaboriault aims to bridge the gap between the 19th century and the 21st century without losing sight of the library’s history.
“I’m trying to figure out a way we can provide a space for abstract thinking and broader discussion, almost like an experimental laboratory for thought,” she says. This creative thinking has been a common thread throughout Gaboriault’s background.
Aside from being Director of Programs, Gaboriault is an art director, illustrator, author and designer, and has worked with organizations for more than 15 years to create programs that spark creativity.
“My mother worked at RISD when I was very young, so I pretty much grew up on the RISD campus,” she says. “I was blessed with a mother who believed that arts and culture are very important and that being an artist was a viable vocation.”
Gaboriault is also a filmmaker, and hopes to incorporate the medium into the Athenaeum to visually document the people and things that are happening there.
For now, she is focusing on the upcoming season, including planning for the Athenaeum’s speaker program, known as the Salon series, as well as other initiatives. “This is the first time we’ve pre-planned almost a year in advance,” she says.
The spring 2017 season includes a mystery novelist, a best-selling author who wrote the first biography on Rumi – the 13th-century Persian poet – and, as part of the Open Sesame Project, artists and historians coming into the Athenaeum’s special collections to talk about their processes and discoveries, and how they’re activating archives in libraries. There’s also a Philbrick Poetry Series and so much more.
“We’re trying to initiate the library more as a character in the landscape of this city,” says Gaboriault. “I’m hoping to work on projects that include more musicians and performers coming in and activating the spaces – almost as a stage to what is going on in the community, and having some open conversations.”
“The Athenaeum has this certain mystique that people can’t quite put their finger on,” she says. “I feel it when I walk in here. It’s a library, but it feels like something else.”