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FAWC at 50

by Rebecca M. Alvin

The work of a writer or an artist can be shrouded in mystery. When we think of work, we think of doing something for a certain rate of pay, usually something we would not do if we were not getting paid for it. But for those in the arts, work is not always easily connected to a rate of pay, hours can be all over the map, and there is an isolation that is at times welcome, but often not. Stability and security are the reasons people get jobs. Stability and security are not typically the reasons people make art. And yet, countless artists and writers have come to Provincetown to carry out their passions in the unique changing light of summer and fall, in dune shacks, cottages, and shared apartments throughout the Outer Cape, and in some cases, if they’re lucky, at the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC) Residency Program, which supports emerging artists with fellowships to live and work in Provincetown for seven months.

Artist Sam Messer

Artist Sam Messer came to FAWC in 1981 as a young artist at the very beginning of his career. After completing his Master of Fine Arts degree at Yale, he entered the program along with someone else who was just starting out, author Denis Johnson. He recalls it as a time of both artistic growth and camaraderie in the Provincetown of the early 1980s.

“In the winter there was nothing happening… I remember we used to go to the Crown & Anchor a lot, and we saw [Monty Python’s] Life of Brian, which they played every night, but you never saw the end of it, because the bar closed at one, so you could never see the end of the film,” he laughs. He recalls connecting with Johnson when they met at a poker game in poet Cleopatra Mathis’ apartment. “Denis and I had similar work habits, which would be we’d work very frenetically and then walk around and get some coffee or do something.”

Messer and Johnson later collaborated to create unique works, such as an animated version of Johnson’s story Denis the Pirate. Of course, both Messer and Johnson later found great success in their respective fields, for which they will be honored at this year’s Summer Awards Celebration, set to take place at the Pilgrim Monument.

The late Denis Johnson.

It’s these kinds of connections, combined with the time and space for creating work, that are vital to an artist’s growth and development. There are not many places where one can go to find this, and there are none that offer the unique vantage point of Provincetown, which often feels like it’s located at the end of the Earth. Of course, we all know Provincetown is this country’s oldest continuing artist colony, but that status is a tenuous one given the economic shifts that have come about over the years and what some worry is a change in the formerly bohemian culture of the town. FAWC is uniquely positioned to keep the colony constantly infused with new ideas and new writers and artists to develop their skills, interact with one another, and offer their work to the community in readings and portfolio shows that are free and open to the public.

To walk the line between being one of the essential local institutions that keeps the Provincetown artists’ colony alive and well and being a part of the larger, global art world as a kind of an incubator for artists and writers who will be the future award winners, cultural shifters, and rabble rousers in our world, is a difficult task. But just as Provincetown has changed and will continue to change, so, too must its institutions.

Josephine (posthumous) and Salvatore Del Deo

Every year at its major fundraiser, the Summer Awards Gala, FAWC honors significant contributors to the arts, including prominent writers, scholars, and artists, as well as arts philanthropists. Past honorees have included such luminaries as Tony Kushner, Mary Oliver, Michael Cunningham, Paul Resika, and the late painter Robert De Niro, Sr., whose son, Robert De Niro came to town on his behalf to accept the award in 2014. For their 50th anniversary, the heat was on to bring in someone whose contributions to the arts would be even higher profile. They succeeded when deciding on internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who will be honored along with Messer, Johnson (who passed away two years ago), Vice President of the Board of Trustees and arts patron Alison Ferring, and Salvatore and the late Josephine Del Deo, who co-founded FAWC with a group of artists and supporters, including Robert Motherwell and Fritz Bultman, back in 1968. It is in many respects, the ideal collection of honorees, as it speaks to FAWC’s past, present, and future as they enter a new chapter in the institution’s venerable history.

The Fine Arts Work Center celebrates its 50th Anniversary at a special Summer Gala at the Pilgrim Monument, 1 High Pole Hill Rd., Provincetown, on Saturday, July 21, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Salvatore Del Deo, Ai Weiwei, Alison Ferring, and Sam Messer, are scheduled to attend for their awards reception and dinner. Tickets ($300 and up) and information are available by calling 508.487.9960 or visiting An exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s work will also be on view at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery at FAWC, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown, July 20 – August 30. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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