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Chris McCarthy: People were very curious to learn the story and that’s what the Centennial did and by engaging through a blockbuster exhibition, new people, they stayed engaged and not only just as visitors but as donors, as members, as new board members and we’ve really, we cast the net wide and it’s still out there.
Anita Walker: Hello. I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. I’m with Chris McCarthy in Provincetown at the Provincetown at the Provincetown Art Association Museum. Thanks for joining us today, Chris.
Chris McCarthy: Thanks for having me, thanks for making the trip, you got the sunny day.
Anita Walker: We certainly did, although I understand it’s always a sunny day in Provincetown.
Chris McCarthy: It is always a sunny day here.
Anita Walker: No matter what time of year, and I’ve been here in January and seen sunny days. Well one of the things we wanted to talk about is that you have been celebrating 100 years of existence here in Provincetown and you’ve got some terrific strategies that you use to really capitalize on this anniversary. We have a lot of organizations that have birthdays and raising money is always job one, a campaign around a birthday but you did a lot more this year and I want to talk about that. But before we get into it, tell us about the history of PAAM.
Chris McCarthy: Well the history is so incredible, and I’ll segue to the Centennial in a second, but the idea that we are comprised by community and we’re about community and I use that term loosely because the American art world is our community. And when the art colony here in Provincetown was founded in 1899 by Charles Hawthorne, he came here to open a school of art, that’s what really kicked off the creative juices here in Provincetown. The landscape, the light have always been a source of inspiration and they continue to be for so many artists, playwrights, Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams, the legacy of the culture in Provincetown is so rich that we have multiple organizations that try to continue this. And here at PAAM, visual is our mainstay but we also have a school which is a major part of mission, education, artists who get to show and sell their work here and building a collection, those are really our three main pieces that have been the same mission since the beginning, it’s never changed, we just finally can do it right and having a good facility that’s created to accommodate all of your programs and such has been a huge benefit over the past ten years for us.
Anita Walker: You know whenever I come to PAAM, there is something special about it, there’s something special about Provincetown, there is something special in the light [ph?] and just the feeling and the atmosphere here, kind of a Zen if you’ll pardon the expression. But the visitor comes into this museum and they can see amazing art on the wall and it almost gives them such a connection to the sense of place here, but unlike so many museums that art lovers walk into, you really feel a connection to the artist here.
Chris McCarthy: Yes, definitely.
Anita Walker: Why is that?
Chris McCarthy: This place was started by artists, five major artists founded the art association, they knew that there was a need for a place, a repository for the work that was being created here, the town couldn’t accommodate it so like minds think and they got together with some of the business people in town. Siemens Bank who’s been our 100 year partner, they were the first ones to kind of float a little loan so they could buy this building in 1918. And it was built by artists, the galleries were constructed by artists, the organization was run by artists and the majority of our committees are made up of artists that help us make decisions from the board level all the way down to hanging exhibitions. So my staff, half of my staff are working artists, so you can’t get away from it, it’s here, we employ over 100 artists in our school a year so by default you’re immersed in it and you can feel it, if these walls could talk from 100 years ago, boy, I don’t think we could be on the air with that.
Anita Walker: Oh, I don’t know, that might be kind of fun. So Provincetown art, that is globally recognized.
Chris McCarthy: Globally recognized, absolutely and we have become a niche because that is specific to our mission, we can’t collect work or show work really, I mean we make some exceptions, except work that has a connection to Cape Cod and the islands, really. And so that limits us but it limits us in a great way because we are the niche for Provincetown art so if you want to– but the caveat to that is that so many artists came to Provincetown, whether they came in for a summer, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner was here in 1940, in her biography it talks about how studying in Provincetown changed the next part of her career. And this place has had huge impact on many, many artists, so we can claim the same artists as the Metropolitan or the Whitney or MoMA, we all share these artists but the beautiful thing is that these artists, many of them are not from Provincetown, they came from Indiana, they came from Ohio, they came from Florida, they came from New York and many of them stayed or they would return or go somewhere else and come back. But once you’re here, you get it in your blood and you can’t go away, you have to just keep coming back. So our collection really I think especially in the past year is a record of this incredible legacy of artists, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Andy Warhol, I mean I could just go through the alphabet and every major player has been in Provincetown.
Anita Walker: And there is something indelible about this place, you were just showing me a couple of paintings that were painted from memory by somebody who was here.
Chris McCarthy: Yes. Who hadn’t been here in 50 years because you can’t get it out of your brain, it’s tattooed on there, that’s what Provincetown is and does. And a lot of these artists are looking at the same landscape but their interpretations are so very different and that’s the other beauty of whether it’s a white line woodblock print or a monotype or a painting or a photograph, they have this most amazing resource, the nature and the beauty of Provincetown.
Anita Walker: Now you recently 100, I don’t know exactly because you celebrated…
Chris McCarthy: It was in 2104…
Anita Walker: Twenty-fourteen.
Chris McCarthy: …was the Centennial, yes.
Anita Walker: And like so many organizations, when you come up to an anniversary it’s a great time to capitalize on it…
Chris McCarthy: Yes.
Anita Walker: …and boy 100 is a pretty special one. So first of all, what was your menu, what was your strategy of things you wanted to accomplish?
Chris McCarthy: Well because we’re seasonally challenged here in Provincetown, we had to capture the summer audience, the summer before our Centennial, so we really kicked it off on Labor Day of 2013 which was the year before, but we wanted to put it in people’s brains that we were turning 100 next year, not to go away for the winter and forget, so we kicked it off with a huge party. And of course, we had been planning for several years prior to this, we had many, many committees that had been meeting and meeting and how are we going to create something that’s not just going to be one thing, we did a 16 month Centennial is what we did and actually, it’s probably 18 months because it overlapped into 2015. So we hit the tail end of 2013, all of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 and because earlier when I said we’re about community, when you’re celebrating something, everyone wants to take part, so we figured, okay, if anybody wants to come to the table with an idea, let’s put it on the table. So for example, the Dahlia Society, the flower, the dahlia, they wanted to do something, so we created a dahlia bed in front and our color was orange so they planted orange dahlias that were our signature color and flower for the year. Now they will keep doing that every single year, they were purple this year so they’ll do a different color for us every year. So that was one example. A makeup group that comes in and does tours with us every year decided to do a Centennial lipstick.
Anita Walker: This was my favorite and I do own this lipstick.
Chris McCarthy: Yes, in a shade or orange that was created by some of their students who didn’t know why they were creating this lipstick and all the proceeds from the sale of the lipstick came back to help us. Another big, huge push was the collection, we wanted to collect 100 very significant pieces of art to fill in the gaps in the collection and when I mean significant, I mean Edward Hopper, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann and the list goes on. And because I’m, I would have to say greedy in a good way, every time someone said, “Well how many do you have?” my number was 87 and I said 87 for a long time even though we really got about 127, because I couldn’t say no. When we met our goal I was like, “Oh, I think 87.” I’m not good at math, only counting checks.
Chris McCarthy: So anyhow, this really was a turning point for us in terms of people thinking of us as this repository for really important work that was created in Provincetown and so once the ball started rolling, people were like– we unveiled them, every few weeks we would unveil a few more pieces so that people got to see, “Oh wait, they just got a Motherwell,” or, “They got a Hofmann,” and then people started– it almost became like a competition and people, if they’re going to get, well then I’m going to give one, and we ended up launching this past July, our brand new collections book, which we hadn’t had one since 1999 and our collection has essentially tripled since then. We featured an image of all of the PAAM 127 works and new essays, in fact an essay written by Dr. Melissa Renn about how Provincetown is the birthplace of American modernism, it’s a missing link, that essay has never been written and we did it and the examples from the collection were just the piece of the pie that added to why it’s a real theory and it was a proven theory through this book. So that is– I was so happy when that book came out and it’s just a huge testament to the community, to people who believe in us as the holders who are going to preserve this legacy for the next 100 and 1,000 years.
Anita Walker: And more. So let’s just pause because I think the way you were able to enrich and enhance your collection is really the legacy. I love the dahlias and the lipstick but I mean the collection…
Chris McCarthy: Yeah, we had to get everybody involved.
Anita Walker: The collection, that is a phenomenal accomplishment in that period of time and I’m certain that we have other art museums in Massachusetts that are going to be having significant anniversaries in the near future. So dig a little deeper on how you thought through that strategy, how you launched it, once it gets rolling, but how did you get it rolling?
Chris McCarthy: Well in terms of the collection, we have a wonderful legacy circle here at PAAM of many people who have left us in their wills, many of those people have left us artwork. So part of the strategy was to ask the people who have already talked to us about leaving gifts, if they would accelerate because the gift had to be in hand in order to be part of the PAAM 100, “It’s great that you have us in your will but we want it now.” And that’s what we did, and I have to say, 98 percent of the people that we spoke to were like, “Yes, you can have it now,” and they wanted to see it in their lifetime be part of this really important turning point for us, so that was how that piece worked. And then we did four exhibitions that featured the four times 25 or 30 pieces that showcased every single one of the PAAM 100 pieces and that spread out, again, into 2015, so we just kept going and going and people just couldn’t wait to see what the next group of paintings– but every event that we did, we would bring three or four and unveil them at an event because we did events– I mean every event we did was a Centennial and for every partner that we had in town, we made PAAM 100 stickers and you got to put that in your window. So everywhere in town, these orange PAAM 100 stickers which are still there, which are wonderful, it was galleries, it was restaurants, it was shops, anybody who participated by either giving us a gift certificate for a raffle or a cash gift or whatever, were part of the PAAM 100 campaign. So we really immersed the entire community by whichever party we had and we did special dinners, we did parties out on the lawn, we did have a giant birthday cake party, we did that toward the end, our gala, both this gala and the gala before and the gala before that, all centered on a different aspect of our fundraising and the campaign and why building an endowment in particular to make sure that we were sustainable was just a huge, huge piece. And so we focused for example this year, it was all about education, I was about our school, it was about our youth programs, it was about our adult programs, so everything we kind of tried to target a different piece of the mission, collection, the education and our artists who are always highlighted at any turn. But it really became– from the carnival parade we had a float with artists painting on the float, everything we did focused back on the Centennial and we used it, it’s like when you get a Kresge grant or a Mass Cultural grant and you have to match it three to one or two to one, you just use that for everything, that’s what we did with the Centennial. “Well don’t you want to be part of the 100th anniversary?” We made cutouts of some of the members who were the original members, these big life sized cutouts and they move all around, they were in the galleries, they were in the street, they were at parties, so we brought those with us everywhere.
Anita Walker: You were ever present.
Chris McCarthy: We were ever present.
Anita Walker: Tell the story about the photographs, the historic?
Chris McCarthy: Yes. So as part of– typically we try to partner with architects every year to do a project, for the Centennial we partnered with Calvin Tsao and Zach McKown from New York who spend their summers here in Provincetown and they had this idea called ReFraming Provincetown and essentially it’s a literal frame, it’s a double frame, one side of the frame has a vintage photograph of a scene in Provincetown and the other half is empty so you look through it and see what…
Anita Walker: It looks like today.
Chris McCarthy: …it looks like today. We positioned about 30 of those all the way from The Jetty out on the pier all the way to the East End, and people had a map where they could run around and they were supposed to take selfies and they’d hashtag PAAM 100 or ReFraming Provincetown and then there was a whole series of photographs from people who came from all over the place who did the ReFraming project with us. So that became global and then it just continued and certain properties didn’t want us to take them back when it was down so they left them up and there’s a few of them…
Anita Walker: They’re still there.
Chris McCarthy: …still around Provincetown but they were in the cemetery. Biking was the best way to go around, they were out at Race Point and again, it brought the National Seashore to partner with us, it brought private home owners and shop owners who were like, “What are you putting on my lawn?” “Oh, don’t worry, they won’t get too many people sticking their heads through the frame.” But it really tied the whole town back to PAAM. and then we had an exhibition here where you could actually videotape or audiotape yourself with your own history of your time in Provincetown and we had scrapbooking too.
Anita Walker: Like story <inaudible>.
Chris McCarthy: Yes, so you could take your pictures or whatever and put them in a scrapbook and we have all those now from the people who participated in the ReFraming project.
Anita Walker: And it all makes sense because really PAAM is part and parcel of Provincetown and everybody in it.
Chris McCarthy: That’s right.
Anita Walker: And the fact that you were able to take your celebration and really make it Provincetown’s celebration and not just everyone who’s here now, but anyone who would be coming back or part timers or visitors, amazing way to engage and build community.
Chris McCarthy: And we did an exhibition at the St. Botolph Club in Boston of the century, 100 works that spanned the century, so we took it on the road too because in the downtime when people aren’t here, you weren’t going to get away from us, so we did events in New York and Boston and Florida where we brought us to you so that you could learn about the Centennial and not forget about it until you came back here in May or June.
Anita Walker: So that was the celebration, are there aftershocks, is there a long tail, is there a lasting effect and impact?
Chris McCarthy: Yes, because I’d say that the impact which really started in 2012 when we did the Robert Motherwell show, that attracted so many new people who really hadn’t either been in a while or had never been here before, those people are now more involved because it was almost like the springboard to the Centennial. Here we just did a major Motherwell show that attracted huge audiences from all over the place and then people were like, “Well now, what are you going to be doing next year?” and all of the exhibitions for the Centennial heavily drew from our collection, we partnered with the Archives of American Art from the Smithsonian, so we had objects and pictures and letters, so people were very curious to learn the story and that’s what the Centennial did. And by engaging through a blockbuster exhibition, new people, they stayed engaged and not only just as visitors but as donors, as members, as new board members and we’ve really, we cast the net wide and it’s still out there, it’s still casting.
Anita Walker: So your donor ranks have grown…
Chris McCarthy: Yes.
Anita Walker: …your collection has grown…
Chris McCarthy: Huge.
Anita Walker: …your members and visitors have grown.
Chris McCarthy: Yes, and our membership was even higher this year. What the residual effect of the Centennial, we were featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” in May and we also were part of a documentary that was just screened on HBO, so now we have national television in addition to everything else which was the icing on the cake because you think to yourself, “What are we going to do now that the Centennial is over?” Well, television and originally the CBS piece was supposed to air in the Centennial year but it got bumped to 2015 which was even better because it kicked off Memorial Day with us on CBS and six million viewers.
Anita Walker: So what’s your strategy to keep the new donors, the new visitors, the new members engaged? Now, thank you very much, the gift that keeps demanding.
Chris McCarthy: Yeah, geez. We have to just stay fresh and be creative, we just added three new board members on who have new ideas and new networks, we are constantly trying to not keep asking the same people, we want to keep them engaged as always but we want new people and we want new ideas. We have a lot of young people both on our staff and present in the museum through our programs, we really love to listen to our young people. So our gala instead of just being a dinner and dessert, now we have a dance party and that’s for younger people who want to come and everybody ends up staying, it doesn’t matter how old you are. So we’ve really tried to engage the next generation of Provincetown, which dwindles, it’s dwindling and that’s an issue, so we’re trying to do fun, exciting things here all year round that people can really partake in and we get involved with anything we can in town just to– the film series, artwork going to be put in the windows of shops that are closed for the winter, we’re spearheading that with the town, so we really have tried to get ourselves included in as much as we can so that we’re constantly with new people and exciting new ideas. And every year I’m like, “I don’t know how we’re going to top it,” and we just keep doing it, so.
Anita Walker: Because it’s Provincetown.
Chris McCarthy: Yeah.
Anita Walker: And you mentioned a lot of the classes and workshops and everything from youth to adult artists, you’re continuing to reinvest in the next generation of art making.
Chris McCarthy: Yes, absolutely. We want to continue that tradition that Charles Hawthorne started in 1899 whether it’s plein air painting or whether it’s Hans Hofmann’s color theory, whether it’s a white line woodblock print technique, the traditions that were started here, we still continue. And then of course we’ve added on and we do web design and we do gaming now, the kids are making video games, they are doing Minecraft, they’re doing all that kind of stuff. And of course, it’s so easy for them to do this and so now we’ve added a whole level of technology as part of PAAM’s offerings, we do, how to stretch a canvas, how to market yourself as an artist, how to write a press release. We’ve incorporated through our workshops and classes the need that these artists have told us they want and when we can do that. And in the summertime, people who live in Harwich and Brewster don’t want to drive to Provincetown so we have artists in their studios. So some of our member artists who live up Cape actually hold art classes in their spaces so that people from the mid Cape can still take a PAAM class offsite and you don’t have to drive to Provincetown in August because we all know what that is like. So we’ve really tried, like I said, just keep broadening. Right now our collection is up in six different venues including Endicott College and Newberry Court in Concord Mass so we really have tried to just take it on the road as much as we can because when I ask these people for artwork, I don’t want to have to tell them that, “Thanks, it’s going to sit in the basement,” because that’s not what it’s about, it’s about getting the artwork out, having it be accessible. And any time I hear rumblings of a Provincetown show somewhere, I’m going to get myself involved with that and get some of our collection involved as much as we can. And so our exhibition schedule is now into 2020, we’re looking at because now we have so many exhibitions that we want to do and so many other people that we’re partnering with, so it’s hugely exciting.
Anita Walker: Provincetown Art Association Museum. Chris McCarthy, another one of our creative minds out loud.
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