PROVINCETOWN —Jay Critchley invited members of the community — artists, writers, veterans — to join him on Wednesday, March 11 for a walk-through of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building at 3 Jerome Smith Road. A dozen or so people appeared. They were there to explore ideas for a Provincetown Community Compact project that had been green-lighted a week before by the select board: to turn the building, which will soon be torn down, into a 10-day community-wide art installation, from April 3 through 12. The idea was to transform the V.F.W. into a starlit shrine: filled with artifacts, with no electricity, a “vessel of aspiration,” said Critchley, who, as an artist, has orchestrated several of these kinds of installation-performance projects over the years.
By March 11, however, the coronavirus pandemic was already a threat.
The Independent asked photographer Jane Paradise to record the moment. But moments, at this time of crisis, are particularly evanescent. The fate of the project within the building is up in the air.
“I think that it’s probably going to be canceled,” said Critchley on Monday, March 16. “But it’s not official. We’ll have to see about that. At this point, I want to get artists in the building, working with resilience in the middle of the plague.”
If they can’t work inside, Critchley may have them work outside. “We’re still accepting ideas for the project,” he said, “whether they are virtual or physical. Regardless of what happens, we’ll create an online presence for the project and the community. This is a time when many artists, writers, and other creatives are making art. The project is morphing into what’s going on in the world. That’s the challenge: to see how it will show itself.
Inside the V.F.W. hall’s main room, Critchley (center, with a black baseball cap and a hand to his heart) asks those assembled to remain six feet apart. Behind him at left, looking at her camera, is the Mosquito Story Slam’s Vanessa Vartabedian; then, beyond Critchley, left to right: artist Nick Thorkelson, veteran Paul Mendes, activist Char Priolo, Relish owner Frank Vasello, and his husband, actor-director Nathan Butera. “There was great energy,” Critchley said. “People were excited to be in the building. They shared a lot of great stories. It was very emotional, very forward-looking.”
The V.F.W. basement was open for artists to transform. The place holds lots of memories — dances, wedding and funeral receptions, both straight and gay. Currently, the plumbing is not functioning, and though lights were on during the walk-through, Critchley hopes to keep the project electricity-free.
“My Pilgrim Barbie!” Critchley said. He also brought “gold” necklaces for the attendees to wear as symbols of power. As planned, the building would be filled with personal artifacts brought by the community.
Though the town has mostly emptied the building, on March 11 the kitchen of the V.F.W. still had boxes of books and a bunch of beautiful old doors, which photographer Jane Paradise judges to be too large and too old to be from the V.F.W., which was built in 1959. “They’ve parceled out objects of historic value,” Critchley said. “I’m not sure what will end up there.”