Photo Credit : Courtesy of Provincetown Office of Tourism
By Courtney HollandsSponsored by the Provincetown Cultural District
When painter Charles W. Hawthorne established the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1899, it was a beacon to artists of all stripes who flocked to this windswept tip of Cape Cod. Playwrights, poets, and other literary types joined the migration, and soon Provincetown was, as the writer Edmund J. Carpenter remarked, a “parade of artists, filled as it is with quaint, picturesque nooks and corners.” The same is true today, as the town continues to thrum with culture — so much so that in 2017, the Massachusetts Cultural Council designated the length of Commercial Street as the Provincetown Cultural District. There’s no shortage of ways you can immerse yourself in the country’s oldest continuous art colony, but if you’re planning a visit to Provincetown this summer, here is a quick overview of highlights to help you make the most of this vibrant cultural hub.
The Pilgrims arrived on the sandy shores of Provincetown in 1620. Today, the 252-foot-tall Pilgrim Monument, completed in 1910, is an impressive reminder of that first landfall. Feeling sprightly? You can climb the 116 steps all the way to the windy top. At its base is the Provincetown Museum, which houses a re-creation of a 19th-century sea captain’s quarters, tools from the local Native American Wampanoag tribe, historical photos, and more. New in 2021: an inclined elevator, similar to a funicular, that whisks visitors up to the monument and museum from the streets of downtown.
Established in 1914, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum — PAAM, for short — boasts 3,000-plus works by artists who have lived or worked on the outer Cape (think Edward Hopper, Charles W. Hawthorne, and Blanche Lazzell). In addition to special exhibits and cultural events held year-round, the PAAM offers not one, but three peaceful, Instagram-worthy sculpture gardens. Nearby, the circa-1968 Fine Arts Work Center is the beating heart of emerging art in Provincetown, hosting summer workshops, online courses for writers, readings, and more. For more than five decades, its Fellowship Program has provided studio and living space and a small stipend to fledgling artists and writers, several of whom have gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes and Guggenheim Awards.
The best time to get acquainted with Provincetown’s 40-plus art galleries is on Friday nights in season, when you can stroll from one inviting space to another, taking in new exhibits and chatting with the owners. For an eyeful of early Provincetown art — including examples of white-line woodblock printmaking, a technique invented by the Provincetown Printers in 1915 — stop by one of Julie Heller’s two galleries. If cutting-edge is more your thing, the Rice Polak Gallery delivers with Blair Thornley’s quirky watercolors and stone carvings from self-taught sculptor Patricia Raney. But truly there is something for every art lover in this town, from seascapes and Picasso ceramics to photography and modern sculpture, as the Provincetown Gallery Guide will attest.
And not only does the new co-working space Provincetown Commons house artist studios and two exhibition spaces, but it also fosters a creative community. To wit: The idea for the new virtual Ptown Gallery Stroll — promising access to the bustling art scene wherever you are — grew out of the weekly Zoom chats for gallerists that the Commons hosted during the pandemic.
Theater and Performing Arts
Founded in 1915, the Provincetown Players put on experimental shows in a fish shack on Lewis Wharf and helped launch the careers of Susan Glaspell, Eugene O’Neill, and others — it’s little wonder Provincetown has been dubbed the “birthplace of American theater.” Though the group disbanded in 1929, it set the stage for the town’s flourishing theater scene. The Provincetown Theater, which started in 1963, occupied different locations before landing in its current home at 238 Bradford Street in 2004. This summer, Obie Award–winning art director David Drake — whose recent productions range from August: Osage County to a gender-swapped rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest — will stage alfresco shows in the Provincetown Theater’s new outdoor venue, the Parking Lot Playhouse.
Provincetown’s newest theatrical troupe, the Peregrine Theatre Ensemble, boldly opened in 2013 with Eugene O’Neill’s long-forgotten autobiographical play, Exorcism. And beyond theater, you’ll find drag, cabaret, and stand-up comedy shows galore up and down Commercial Street. Look for Broadway stars and drag legends amid the stacked lineups at TheArt House, ThePilgrim House, the Crown & Anchor, and the Post Office Café and Cabaret.
For those seeking masterpieces of the auditory variety, live music abounds in Provincetown. More than 140 singers from across Cape Cod lend their voices to the Outer Cape Chorale, which traditionally performs at the Provincetown Town Hall in May and December (while the chorale recently announced it would cancel the spring 2021 season, it’s continuing select community outreach activities). Smaller in size but just as spirited, the Chamber Music for the Outer Cape has won fans with its classical-music concerts at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. Down the hill at the historic Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, baroque compositions, Bulgarian folk songs, or a marimba and piano ensemble just might be on the eclectic schedule at the aptly named Great Music on Sundays @5 series, which runs from June to October.
There’s always something to celebrate in Provincetown, with a packed calendar to prove it. The summer arts season kicks off with Twenty Summers, a nearly month-long virtual series of weekend conversations with artists, filmmakers, and poets slated for May 13 through June 11. Next up is the 23rd annual Provincetown Film Festival, which will be a mix of virtual events and outdoor screenings from June 16 to June 25 this year. The fest showcases more than 80 American and international films, with a focus on marginalized voices and the fringes of cinema.
Showtune enthusiasts should chassé to CabaretFest, planned for June 23 to 27. That’s five days of celebrity master classes, workshops, and performances. Running concurrently, from June 24 to June 27, is the Provincetown Portuguese Festival. Portuguese sailors settled here in droves in the late 1800s to work in the fishing industry; today, revelers mark this heritage with live music, parades, and of course, the annual Blessing of the Fleet.
Rounding out the summer, look for the Provincetown Jazz Festival, which attracts musicians and vocalists from across America and beyond; this year performances are scheduled for August 2 in South Yarmouth and August 16 in Cotuit. Also featuring national performers as well as world premieres, the Provincetown Dance Festival — co-produced by artistic director Adam Miller and the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill — will happen virtually on August 21 and 22 this year. Conceptual tap, ballet, classical Indian dance, and more all have a place on this stage.