Firedancing could be coming to downtown Riverhead
Fire dancing could be coming to downtown Riverhead

Downtown Riverhead could soon be filled with tribal rituals, the lighting of floating wood-filled braziers along the riverfront, fire dancers and music in a cultural destination project designed to breath life into downtown’s business district.

Bryan DeLuca of the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center and Ray Pickersgill of the Riverhead Business Improvement District pitched a project called RiverFires to the Riverhead Town Board at a work session Thursday morning.

It’s based on a similar event called WaterFire in Providence, R.I., which is designed to revitalize the urban experience, foster community engagement and creatively transform the city, according to WaterFire’s website. They’ve even imported gondolas from Venice for their events.

The scene on the Providence River during WaterFire
The scene on the Providence River during WaterFire

“It’s a world-class series of events, with music and fire dancers. It has transformed the city,” said Mr. DeLuca of Providence’s project, which has been duplicated all over the world, from Kansas City to Singapore.

Mr. DeLuca said, if Riverhead decides to start with a small-scale fire project, the majority of the waterborne fire braziers would be throughout the river in Grangebel Park, where they could stay anchored permanently to a mushroom anchor. They could also be placed on the east side of Peconic Avenue, but would need to be removed after events to keep from impeding navigation.

He said he envisions the park being filled with music and performance arts during events that would initially take place three or four times a year.

Mr. DeLuca said East End Arts is considering putting together a contest to have artisans design braziers to be placed in the river, and he’s working with East End Arts Executive Director Pat Snyder on a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We’re asking the town to be the primary applicants,” he said, adding that he’s also seeking funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

“We’ll potentially be the only one on Long Island,” he said.

Mr. Pickersgill said the BID is looking to solicit sponsors to help buy wood to stoke the fires. Commercially produced braziers would cost around $600 each and would be interspersed with the ones crafted by artisans. No one mentioned what the artisans would be paid.

They would also like to hang gas-powered braziers in alleyways throughout downtown.

Board members agreed to sign off on the grant applications. Town Councilman John Dunleavy said he would like the organizers to discuss the project with the fire marshal before going any further.

Mr. DeLuca said the fire marshals have already said they don’t have a problem with the concept, and he’s spoken with state Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Director Peter Scully, who doesn’t think the DEC will object.

“He doesn’t see any problem as long as there are no igniter fluids,” he said.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

One thought on “Fires could light up downtown Riverhead’s arts scene

  1. Waterfire has been a huge success for many years in Providence, and I think this is a great idea whose time may have come for Riverhead. It seems totally in line with the steady revitalization effort of downtown – well worth a try, at least!

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