Shining a Light on Provincetown’s Twenty Summers

Tucked away in a hilly Provincetown neighborhood is the Hawthorne Barn, a place where musicians, authors and artists are invited to speak and perform during a five-week festival every Spring.

By Lisa Cavanaugh | Photography by Julia Cumes

Artists know that northern light is ideal for painting. It is reflected light that bathes both the subject matter and the canvas in the same consistent tones throughout the day. For that reason, when painter and founder of the Cape Cod School of Art Charles Hawthorne decided in 1907 to build a barn on a hill in Provincetown dedicated to creating art, he installed an immense window in the north-facing wall.

Now, that lovely light shines each summer on an eclectic collection of painters, authors, musicians and lecturers—and their audiences—as part of Twenty Summers, a nonprofit arts organization entering its fifth year this May.

Joshua Prager, co-founder
of Twenty Summers, at the Hawthorne Barn in Provincetown.

Saving the Hawthorne Barn from demolition or private development and honoring the legacy of art in Provincetown was the inspiration for New York-based writer Joshua Prager and his co-founders Julia Glass and Ricky Opaterny. Prager purchased the barn in 2009 with the intention of renovating it and launching a center that would inspire artists and engage the public. After two years, the expense of the project grew insurmountable and he sold it to the barn’s current owners, Adam Moss and Daniel Kaizer, who live next door. They support the mission of Twenty Summers and lease the barn to the organization for a five-week festival and residency program each year. The group’s name comes from a line in the poem “Route Six,” by Massachusetts-born poet Stanley Kunitz and represents the plan to operate for (at least) two decades.

The Twenty Summers team, which also includes executive director Camille Ives Beck, works to attract different kinds of artists to the Hawthorne barn from mid-May to mid-June. Last year’s lineup featured various authors, architects, museum curators, journalists and musicians each weekend, while visual artists (and one composer) lived and worked in the barn for a week at a time. (See sidebar for this season’s schedule.)

“We want to be part of the cultural landscape of Provincetown, but also broaden that landscape,” says Glass, an award-winning author. “We use this beautiful space to give people a memorable experience that stretches their minds.”

The Hawthorne Barn feels intimate and friendly, inspiring a captivating connection between artist and audience. “The barn was not built for events, but happens to be an incredible space for them,” says Camille Ives Beck, executive director of Twenty Summers.

The Hawthorne Barn is tucked away in a hilly residential neighborhood. A stroll through quiet streets and up a winding path, softly illuminated by strings of globe lights, is an enchanting way to start an evening. The main room is airy, comfortable and bright, full of folding chairs and couches during performances. The events feel intimate and friendly, inspiring a captivating connection between artist and audience.

“The barn was not built for events, but happens to be an incredible space for them,” says Ives. “Each year, there is more awareness about what we are doing to create art and share it. People are excited, events sell out early and the community is fully embracing us,” she says.

Twenty Summers founders Joshua Prager, Ricky Opaterny and Julia Glass.

In addition to presenting performances, Twenty Summers seeks to preserve the creation of art in Provincetown and continue the heritage of a historic art school. “It is important to perpetuate this place as both an incubator for visual art through our residency program and provide a center for literary conversations, classical and indie rock concerts, theatrical events, political notables and unique and diverse storytelling,” says Glass.

Another line from the Kunitz poem that gave the organization its name reads: “Let’s jump in the car, honey, and head straight for the Cape.” This joyful exhortation to come to Cape Cod continues to inspire Prager, who is thrilled with how successful his long-ago dream to share art with the community has been. “It’s been incredible!” he says. “We used to joke that we had 20 summers ahead of us, and now we are already one fifth of the way there.”


TWENTY SUMMERS: SEASON FIVE

Fashion designer and TV host Isaac Mizrahi, actor/author Alan Cumming and singer Dar Williams are among the speakers and performers at the month-long spring arts festival in Provincetown. Here are some upcoming season highlights.

May 25

Chowder and Chili Barn Dance

Presented by interior designer Ken Fulk,
$50. 7-9:30 p.m.

May 26

Dar Williams

Dar Williams in Concert

Dar Williams is, according to The New Yorker, “one of America’s very best singer-songwriters.” Known as much for her staunch progressive ideals as her raw acoustic energy, Williams has been captivating audiences with sheer elegance and honesty in her folk-pop songwriting since the ’90s. $40. 7 p.m.

May 26

Hawthorne, Hofmann and Their Heirs: A Walking Tour with David Dunlap

Join David Dunlap, author of “Building Provincetown,” for a walking tour from the Hawthorne Class Studio to Max Bohm’s Grand View cottage, past the homes and studios of more than 60 painters, sculptors, photographers, playwrights and authors. $15. Two tours: 10-11:30 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m.

May 31

Artist Residency Open Studio: Ken Fulk

Ken Fulk is a designer of experiences big and small. His deep love of Provincetown has led him to implement a “Design in the Dunes” creative retreat for his senior design team. During this residency, they will bask in the rich history of the Hawthorne Barn, with daily exercises that explore how painting, performance and poetry can influence and enhance their work. 6-8 p.m. Free.

June 2 & 9

Hawthorne Barn

Twenty Summers + PAAM present Art in the Barn

Due to last season’s popular demand, there will be two days of art-making at the Hawthorne Barn with friends from PAAM. $60. 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

June 9

Robert Pinsky and Monica Youn: Poetry and Conversation

Robert Pinsky, a former U.S. poet laureate, joins Monica Youn, whose third book, “Blackacre,” was named one of the best poetry books of 2016 by The New York Times, the New Yorker and the Washington Post. Moderated by local award-winning poet Elizabeth Bradfield. $20. 7 p.m.

June 10

Overcoats in the Hofmann Studio

Twenty Summers is expanding its programming this year to include the historic Hofmann Studio, the former West End home and studio of artist Hans Hofmann. The inaugural event in that space will be an intimate concert featuring Overcoats, the New York–based female electronic-pop duo of Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell. $30, 7 p.m. The Hoffman Studio, 76 Commercial St., Provincetown.

June 16

Pollock: A Staged Reading

Following its sold-out premiere in February at Manhattan’s Abrons Art Center, Twenty Summers presents a theatrical reading of “Pollock,” featuring  the original actors, Jim Fletcher and Birgit Huppuch. $25, 7 p.m.

All Twenty Summers events will be held at the Hawthorne Barn, 29 Miller Hill Road, Provincetown (unless otherwise noted). Visit 20summers.org for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets.

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