Photo Credit : James Zimmerman/Courtesy of Provincetown Art Association and Museum
Sponsored by the Provincetown Office of Tourism
Years before Georgia O’Keeffe fell under the spell of Taos, New Mexico — and decades before Donald Judd helped put Marfa, Texas, on the map — the idea of the American art colony had already sunk its roots deep into the sea-swept, light-filled landscape of Provincetown, Massachusetts. In a 1916 article that dubbed this longtime fishing village as “the biggest art colony in the world,” the Boston Globe marveled: “Anywhere and everywhere you go — painters, painters, painters!”
The oldest continuous art colony in America traces its history back to the 1899 founding of Charles Hawthorne’s Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown. And over the years this town has attracted not only painters such as Marsden Hartley and Robert Motherwell, but also artists of all kinds, from Eugene O’Neill, who staged his first play here, to the acclaimed poet Mary Oliver.
The same kinds of creative minds and artistic souls that shaped Provincetown’s cultural legacy are still filling its streets, galleries, and performing spaces today. And their spirit of self-expression is also reflected in a thriving LGBTQ+ scene that further underscores the town’s “welcome all” vibe.
Factor in Provincetown’s many other charms — top-notch restaurants and nightlife, cheerful inns, and attractions ranging from the Cape Cod National Seashore to whale watching — and you’ve got all the makings of a getaway that offers a deep dive into culture amid waves of nonstop fun.
COME FOR THE ART…
Provincetown wears its artistic legacy proudly, starting at historic Town Hall, on Commercial Street. Inside the restored and renovated 1885 municipal building you can see a selection of the town’s collection of nearly 300 works by local artists. A few blocks up the street, another 30 or so gems from the collection are displayed in the Provincetown Public Library, along with a stunning half-scale model of the Rose Dorothea, a legendary 1905 fishing schooner.
Next stop: Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), which was founded a group of artists and townspeople in 1914, in part to hold exhibitions of those working and studying in the Provincetown art colony. Its high-ceilinged galleries feature a rotating lineup of nearly 4,000 works by 20th-century and contemporary artists who have worked in Provincetown and on Cape Cod (including the second-largest collection of Edward and Josephine Hopper artwork in the world).
Launched in 1968 by artists, writers, and patrons including Robert Motherwell and the poet Stanley Kunitz, the Fine Arts Work Center is a nonprofit that embraces Provincetown’s art-colony heritage by offering residencies to emerging artists and writers. But it also hosts a robust lineup of public events, too, such as exhibitions, open studios, and talks with the likes of novelist Jhumpa Lahiri and Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. Meanwhile, another local nonprofit, The Commons, puts a spotlight on Cape & Islands artists in its exhibition hall and sculpture garden — both wonderful spaces to explore the diversity of regional talent.
Of course, you haven’t truly experienced the Provincetown art scene until you’ve sampled its treasure trove of art galleries. There are more than 40 all told, representing a dazzling array of styles and mediums, and most are located right on the main drag, Commercial Street. One of the best ways to take it all in is The Stroll (May 27–Oct. 7), a traditional Friday-night gallery stroll marked by special events, opening receptions, and a generally festive air.
Looking at the most venerable of Provincetown’s galleries, there’s the Julie Heller Gallery, first founded more than 40 years ago and now with two locations; among its calling cards are historic white line woodblock prints, an original American art form that originated in Provincetown. Other longtime institutions include the Berta Walker Gallery, a showcase of Provincetown-affiliated artists past and present; the Albert Merola Gallery, with an eclectic roster of artists (filmmaker John Waters, among others) and expertise in Picasso ceramics; and the Rice Polak Gallery, one of Provincetown’s leading venues for contemporary art.
But no matter where you look in P-town, eye-opening art experiences are everywhere — from the diversity of mediums on display at Cortile Gallery (oils and encaustics to glass, ceramics, and sculptures) to the design-forward décor and furniture at Room 68. Even just strolling around can lead to an unexpected viewing: At the end of the Provincetown Marina pier you’ll discover They Also Faced the Sea, an installation of photo portraits by Norma Holt, while the Marine Specialties building on Commercial Street sports an Esteban del Valle mural, Time and the Town, one of the first commissions of the recently created Provincetown Public Art Foundation.
… AND STAY FOR THE FUN
When summer rolls around, Provincetown’s population swells from about 3,000 to more than 60,000. And while the art scene is a big draw for those visitors, it’s rivaled by an entertainment lineup that spans performances, festivals, and nonstop nightlife.
Among the hottest tickets in town are for producer Mark Cortale’s Art House/Town Hall shows, which boast a “who’s who” of Broadway along with music and comedy all-stars. Kicking off Memorial Day and continuing into fall, the 2022 season will see performances by, among others, Tony winners Audra MacDonald and Faith Prince, indie rock star Melissa Ferrick, and RuPaul’s Drag Race champions Bianca Del Rio and Sasha Velour.
More onstage action can be found at the historic Provincetown Theater, which stages five full-length productions from May to November, as well as at Pilgrim House, Post Office Café, and the Crown & Anchor, which regularly host drag shows, comedy performances, and cabaret showcases through the summer season. And don’t miss the return of CabaretFest (this year’s theme: “Hooray for Hollywood,” scheduled for June 21–26 at a number of local venues.
Festivals of all kinds fill the summer months, with LGBTQ+ celebrations being among the most widely beloved. Three big highlights are Provincetown Pride (June 3–5), Provincetown Carnival (Aug. 13–20), and Family Week (July 23–30), which is billed as the biggest gathering of LGBTQ+ families in the world; among other LGBTQ+ celebrations of note are the Womxn of Color Weekend (June 2–5) and the Frolic: Men of Color Weekend (June 16–20). Arts and culture aficionados can likewise take their pick from the Provincetown International Film Festival (June 15–19), the Provincetown Jazz Festival (July 8, Aug., 8, and Aug. 16), and the Twenty Summers series of concerts, conversations, artist residencies, and special events (May 12–June 9).
But you don’t need a special event to join in on P-town’s festive vibe. Evenings throughout the season are brought to life by the town’s many local dance clubs, cocktail bars, and nightlife spots. Plus, from 4 to 7 on weekends — and every day in summer — the Boatslip hosts its traditional tea dance, aka P-town’s biggest outdoor dance party.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Local Attractions: It’s hard to miss spotting the 252-foot Provincetown Monument, the tallest all-granite structure in the U.S.; near its base is the Provincetown Museum, where items such as a giant finback whale jawbone, a century-old fire pumper, and Wampanoag artifacts flesh out the region’s history. Outdoor lovers will find an unparalleled playground in the Cape Cod National Seashore, with its beaches, historic dune shacks, and miles of hiking and biking trails. There are a number of bike rental shops in town, as well as kayaking, boat rentals, and whale watching excursions.
Dining & Lodging: P-town’s seafood game is strong — a stop at the popular on-the-harbor eatery The Lobster Pot is practically a prerequisite — yet you’ll find cuisines of every stripe in the local dining scene. For example, you can dig into New American fare (with live piano bar entertainment) at Tin Pan Alley; enjoy laid-back gourmet dining at The Mews; or grab a slice at Spiritus Pizza and finish it off with a local beer from Provincetown Brewing Co. Equally diverse are Provincetown’s options for where to lay your head for the night, ranging from the beachside retro-style Harbor Hotel; to the polished White Porch Inn, complete with on-site art gallery; to the luxury-minded small resort TheBrass Key Guesthouse and its bigger sibling, The Crowne Pointe Hotel & Spa.
For More Information: The Provincetown Office of Tourism is the go-to resource for visitors, with local advice on events and activities, gallery and restaurant listings, and more. Start planning your perfect Provincetown escape at ptowntourism.com.