A Providence foundation seeks out the awesome

Superlatives Dept.
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  January 13, 2010

What is awesome? A burrito, if you ask me. And nearly any record by the band Spoon.

But the Boston-based Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences, which doles out a $1000 grant each month to an artist, tinkerer or computer geek proposing an awesome creation of one kind or another, has a more considered definition.

"Awesome creations are novel and non-obvious, evoking surprise and delight," according to the foundation. "Invariably, something about them perfectly reflects the essence of the medium, moment, or method of creation. Awesomeness challenges and inspires."

That was, ostensibly, the guiding principle behind the newly-formed Providence chapter's recent selection of its first grantee. But for T.J. Sondermann, Dean of Awesome for the local branch, it was a more instinctual process:

"What it comes down to is, I'll look through the applications and I'll turn to my wife and say, 'look at this guy: he wants to build a giant guitar to take around to all the schools' . . . and reflexively, she'll say, 'that's awesome.' "

Indeed, after Sondermann and the 10 members of the foundation's board — each of whom pitches in $100 per month — gathered at a West Side bar to pick the winner, it was the giant guitar proposal that prevailed.

The man behind the idea, which beat out plans for a large-scale, Bollywood-style dance number in Roger Williams Park, among other proposals: Otto D'Ambrosio, owner of D'Ambrosio Guitars in Providence.

His pitch: take the unfinished frame of a huge guitar, built about two years ago for an advertising campaign for his shop, and turn it into a colorful, kid-friendly instrument that will show up — unannounced, he says — in school yards around the city.

He initially thought of turning the frame into a sign for D'Ambrosio Guitars. But watching students from a nearby middle school traipse by his shop every morning and afternoon, he decided he had to give it a little more life.

"The whole point of a musical instrument is that it's interactive," D'Ambrosio says. "As long as it's not playable, it's almost not a guitar. It's a sculpture."

The $1000 grant, he said, was all the motivation he needed to turn the idea into a reality. The city's first awesome creation should be complete by the spring.

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