Provincetown art colony: Where light, water, and art meet
Provincetown, Massachusetts continues its seasonal tradition of vibrant colors and characters.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
The community prides itself on efforts to keep the town affordable. Several nonprofit groups, including the Fine Arts Work Center, offer fellowships. Established artists often help younger ones by offering critiques. And townsfolk have been known to open their homes to artist friends for extended stays. Mr. Borkowski hosts a friend, whom he calls his "artist in residence" for 10-day stints. "He knows he's always welcome," says Borkowski, "After the visit, he leaves me a portrait."
Today, the town also plays host to battalions of summer tourists, gallerygoers, sun worshipers, bicyclists, and real estate agents. Provincetown also serves as gateway to the 500-mile-long Cape Cod National Seashore, which is celebrating its 50th year as a park.
The dunes were formed as a result of early settlers cutting down the trees; with nothing to hold the sandy soil in place, the land was shaped and eroded by each passing storm. When the dunes became part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, access was carefully restricted to minimize further damage. To see them, I must either hike in via one of the park's approved trails or be driven in by a guide from Art's Dune Tours, which has been licensed for this purpose by the National Park Service.
Riding shotgun, I bounce along next to the guide, who pilots our Chevy Suburban (with under-inflated tires to improve traction) along the steep ridges and deep crevasses of the dunes. In the back seat, a family from New Jersey clutches the door frame as we lurch along. I marvel at the steep, Sahara-like mounds and the sense of the sky going on forever. Like a mirage, a dune shack appears on the horizon. Because the park was created by eminent domain, some of the original owners are allowed to lease their shacks from the government. The Park Service has also restored several shacks for use by writers and artists who are granted one-week stays by lottery.
The dunes are truly a landscape apart. I'm beginning to sense the genius of the place that has eluded me in the crowded streets of town. I can see why a writer like O'Neill would venture out here away from humanity to commune with the sea. As I look out over the moonscape of sand, I think of Provincetown's many facets. The natural beauty that drew writers to solitude also has a flip side in the social aspects found in town. In a few short blocks you can rub shoulders with fellow beings, grab a good meal, see a movie, or hear a concert. But at the end of the day, you can walk away from everything and find a profound and utter stillness.
The next day, as I board the ferry back to Boston, I realize several things. First, that two days are not enough to take in everything Provincetown has to offer. Second, that I am more relaxed now than when I arrived. And third, that the afternoon sun has shifted, bathing the harbor in a remarkable, pure light. As the ferry pulls away, I watch the scene for as long as I can, thinking maybe I should put my name in for a week at one of those dune shacks.