One hundred years ago, PAAM began as a collaboration between artists and business people to exhibit and collect works of art created by Provincetown artists. Today PAAM remains a professional association of 700 contemporary artists, a collector of significant works by those who have lived and worked on Cape Cod, and a provider of educational and cultural programs year-round.
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) was established in 1914 by prominent artists Charles Hawthorne, Oscar Gieberich, William Halsall, Gerrit Beneker, E. Ambrose Webster and several local business men and women. The donation of works by the organizing artists and two juried exhibitions mounted in the summer of 1915 began PAAM’s traditions of collecting and exhibiting the work of the local community of artists. By then, the art community at the tip of Cape Cod had become the refuge of artists and expatriates returned from war-torn Europe, and Provincetown was firmly established as “The Biggest Art Colony in the World” (Boston Globe, 8/8/1916). PAAM consolidated its role as the anchor of that colony through the purchase and refurbishing of its present building in 1919.
In the ’20s and ’30s, the philosophical wars being waged throughout the art world were also fought within the Association. Its artist founders had come out of the Impressionist tradition, and although a variety of styles had been represented in members’ exhibitions since the inception, PAAM’s “establishment” did not readily incorporate the contemporary modernist movement. Faced with aesthetic differences among its artist membership, PAAM maintained a balance. True to its mission, the organization represented both sides of the artistic argument, mounting separate “Modern” and “Regular” summer exhibitions between 1927 and 1937. Still, the conciliation reached in 1937 was only partial; instead of separate exhibitions, separate juries installed concurrent exhibitions on opposite gallery walls, with a coin-flip deciding that the modernists’ work hung on the left. Throughout this period, much of the artistic argument took place in forums and discussions organized at PAAM by one side or the other.
The Depression years of the ’30s and the blacked-out war years of the early ’40s were difficult times for the town and the Association. Although annual shows were canceled and the books at one point showed a balance of only $3.60, volunteers managed to maintain a reduced schedule. And by 1947, the regular schedule of two summer exhibitions had been reestablished. The rise of abstract expressionism—intensified by the location of Hans Hofmann’s summer school here—again riffled the deep divisions within the arts community during the ’50s.
When PAAM celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1964 with a retrospective show of its major artists, the organization focused on gaining national attention for Provincetown’s considerable contribution to American art. The effect was a boon for the organization. Activities increased, new galleries were added, the exhibition schedule expanded, a storage vault was built to house the expanding collection, and once again PAAM showed itself as the center of the local art world.
The organization continued to grow throughout the next three decades, always adhering to its 1921 mission statement: to exhibit and collect art works of merit, and to educate the public in the arts. The organizational structure of the museum has historically included strong representation from both the artist and lay communities, fostering exhibitions and programs that serve both audiences. The purposes of the organization—to be a collecting museum, a professional artists’ association, and a museum school—have been consistently supported over the course of its history.
The PAAM collection has been the basis for many exhibitions and has provided assistance to scholars, researchers and other museums in regards to the history of art on Cape Cod. Encompassing 3,000 works from artists who have lived or worked on the outer Cape, the collection is a burgeoning historical record of the original Provincetown art colony. PAAM continues to increase the number and range of works by earlier artists and to include works by contemporary artists through gifts to the collection.
PAAM’s renovation and expansion, completed in 2006, dramatically improved its facilities to reflect its mission. The contemporary wing—adjacent to the original building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places—enables artist members to show their work in contemporary galleries beside PAAM’s significant American art collection, as well as changing world-class exhibitions. Major points of the renovation include increasing the square footage of the interior space to 6,000 square feet, and an installation of all-season climate control for humidity, cooling, and heating. The galleries also now offer accommodating venues for chamber music, jazz, lectures, and spoken word performances. New studio classrooms were installed to offer appropriate spaces for children, youth, and adult education programs, offered through the Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Museum School at PAAM.
For more information, visit the Machado and Silvetti Associates website.
In 2014, PAAM celebrated its Centennial through a variety of programs and exhibitions. A year-long timeline exhibition, shown in four installments, chronicled PAAM’s past through artworks, writings, log books and other archival materials, both from the PAAM archives and borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution. Events celebrating the Centennial happened throughout 2014, with the Birthday Bash in August and the Annual Gala in October. For more information about Centennial events, visit our PAAM 100 Centennial page.