PROVINCETOWN — It’s a project Jay Critchley had been contemplating for a while: he knew that the town had bought the Veterans of Foreign Wars building at 3 Jerome Smith Road in 2013 and was planning to tear it down. The hall was built in 1959 by the veterans, and is a place that evokes fond memories for many locals who had spent time there. Last week, the select board approved Critchley’s plans to turn the building into a community-wide art project.
He has done projects like this before. Critchley memorialized the old Herring Cove Bathhouse, to spectacular effect, before the Cape Cod National Seashore tore it down in 2012, with dozens of artists turning all the building’s various spaces into installations. Now, with the VFW Hall, he isn’t interested in repeating that effort.
“The more I thought about it, this is a totally different time we’re living in,” Critchley says. “Look at what’s happened in eight years — in the town, in the world, in the environment. I had the idea of darkening the interior of the hall and, as people entered, they would be given solar lights. I’m inviting not just artists, but veterans and people in the community to bring in and install art and artifacts that have personal meaning. It will be like a starlit shrine — a vessel of aspiration.”
The event will be held under the auspices of the Provincetown Community Compact, which Critchley directs. The first organizational meeting will be on Wednesday, March 11, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the site on Jerome Smith Road. Participants can register at thecompact.org. The installation will be open to the public for 10 days, from April 3 through April 12, including the night or nights of the annual town meeting, which begins Monday, April 6.
Critchley has included the VFW project in his “Democracy of the Land” campaign, a subversive twist on Provincetown 400, and added the subtitle “reflections on nature and civic society.” He has two other “Democracy of the Land” art projects unfolding in Provincetown in May: an exhibit at the Fine Arts Work Center and a show of prints at AMP Gallery.
For the FAWC show, on view May 8 through May 31 and subtitled “The Mayflower Compact Untethered,” Critchley is inviting artists of all media to propose a more “inclusive” compact and to explore decolonization. Applications (at fawc.org) are due by March 27 and should include a budget — some funding may be available.
The AMP exhibit, which is subtitled “The Moo Moo World,” will feature prints by Critchley of a “re-rooted” cow, an idea that began at a residency he did at Williams College in the ’90s. Each cow print is adorned with sand of unusual hues from exotic locales, part of Critchley’s collection. The cow, he says, is “symbolic of the invasion of Europeans in the Americas and the ecological disaster that followed. Barnyard animals brought diseases,” devastating the indigenous population. The prints are part of a group show at AMP from May 1 through May 23.
It’s hard to know what the VFW project (unlike the AMP show) will look like. “I’m not orchestrating the project,” Critchley says. “It’s more like baking without a recipe.”