Provincetown art colony: Where light, water, and art meet
Provincetown, Massachusetts continues its seasonal tradition of vibrant colors and characters.
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Decades later, Williams watched the comings and goings from his perch at the A-House bar, where it's said he wrote parts of "The Glass Menagerie." Olson chuckles when he says the barstools are famous today because of the Pulitzer Prize winners (O'Neill won four and Williams two) who have fallen off them.Skip to next paragraph
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A big part of Provincetown's attraction comes from the tolerant attitude of its residents, a legacy from the days of sailors and rum-runners. "The Wild West of the East," Mailer dubbed it. The peninsula's remoteness and the difficulty getting here added to its mystique. "Land's end is where marginalized people wind up," says Olson. A similar pattern developed in Key West at the tip of Florida, and the two towns share in common a large and active gay community.
An artistic camaraderie prevailed almost from the beginning. "There was no hierarchy," says Stephen Borkowski, the town's art commissioner. And artists found the casual atmosphere – away from the spotlight of New York – conducive to taking risks in their work.
"A magical confluence" is how Vivian Bullaudy, director of exhibitions at the Hollis Taggart Galleries in New York, describes the vibrant Provincetown arts colony in a phone conversation. That confluence is being celebrated in an exhibition at the New Britain (Connecticut) Museum of American Art, "The Tides of Provincetown: Pivotal Years in America's Oldest Continuous Art Colony (1899-2011)." She considers the exhibition, which will travel, a watershed moment in the colony's evolution. Underappreciated artists may gain more notice from scholars and collectors alike, potentially helping to create a more competitive market for Provincetown art.
This would be good news for younger artists who find the town an expensive place to live. The cheap rents and quaint seediness that attracted earlier generations have largely gone, replaced by three-star inns and shops selling high-end home décor. A certain gentrification has occurred in Provincetown, as more people with money seek to live here. "Artists now have three jobs. It's expensive to have a studio here," says Christine McCarthy, executive director of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.