PROVINCETOWN — As the 35th-anniversary issue of Provincetown Arts, the glossy and scholarly annual journal of Outer Cape art and literature, was preparing to go to press on June 20, Christopher Busa, its cofounder and editorial director, died from complications of a congenital heart defect at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, staffers said. Members of his family were at his side. He was 73.
Chris told friends that he was feeling weak and under the weather shortly before he entered the hospital. He was not aware of the congenital condition; his death was sudden and unexpected.
He had founded the magazine in 1985 with Raymond Elman. “At first it was just newsprint,” said Sandra Hricko, Chris’s first wife. He and Sandy were living in Provincetown in the house they had bought at 650 Commercial St., which would become the live-in office for Provincetown Arts Press. With the 1987 issue, which had Norman Mailer on the cover, the magazine began publishing annually, soon evolving into an integral part of the local arts community. Appearing on its cover was a rite of passage.
The importance of chronicling the Provincetown arts colony — and its connection to world history — was the very reason Chris founded the press, said Elizabeth Winston, an editor at the magazine and now its interim director, in a letter in the 2020 issue, due out this summer.
The arts colony was in his blood. Chris, who was born on Dec. 20, 1946, in New York City, was the oldest child of celebrated abstract expressionist painter Peter Busa and Jeanne (Juell) Busa. Peter Busa was an acolyte of Hans Hofmann and the family spent time in Provincetown, eventually moving here in the late 1950s. Their home, at 600 Commercial St., also housed the Peter Busa School of Fine Arts. The children attended Provincetown schools.
When Chris was in high school, his father took a position as art professor at the University of Minnesota, and the family moved to a suburb of Minneapolis near Lake Harriet. “We had one of the smaller houses in a town of vast wealth,” Chris’s sister Marianne told the Independent.
Chris, who Marianne said “was a scholar from a young age,” graduated from the University of Minnesota and spent a year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.
He pursued a doctorate in literature at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., with a thesis on the work of D.H. Lawrence. At the same time, Chris, a gifted tennis player, worked as teaching pro at the Chestnut Ridge Racquet Club in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. In the summers, he became the head pro at the Provincetown Tennis Club.
“He made a good living at Chestnut Ridge and Provincetown,” said Bob Schewior, a friend Chris met at Rutgers. “He would have a big tournament every summer. Big prize money.”
Chris also taught at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “He was a natural-born teacher,” said Marianne, whether it was tennis or literature. “The thing about Chris that’s very special is that he really supports people in what they do.”
He was just shy of finishing his thesis when he opted out of academia. “I’m never going to have a regular job like you people do,” Schewior said Chris told him. He and Sandy moved to Provincetown full-time, and soon after, he founded Provincetown Arts.
“He put his whole life into it,” Winston told the Independent. “Financially, emotionally, everything. When he left academia, he found that creating a magazine and thinking and writing about everything he encountered was a good replacement for the academic environment.”
When it seemed clear that the magazine would always cost more than it made, Chris opted to make Provincetown Arts Press a nonprofit and worked tirelessly to raise money for it.
He was a fixture at every art event in Provincetown and scoured the town for subjects to write about and writers to contribute to its pages.
Artist Mira Schor, who was on the cover of the 2010 issue, said that Chris was challenged by feminist art and that’s why he pursued it. “It wasn’t just that he was interested: he respected women artists and gave them a place,” Schor said. “He was a contradictory person. He had a macho side — the tennis pro. But he was my champion. Because Provincetown is such an intimate community, that mattered.”
Many of the women Chris worked with are grateful to him. “He trusted me entirely to create the form for his life’s passion,” said Irene Lipton, the magazine’s longtime art director. In an elegy for Busa, Lipton wrote, “The force of his will and the goodness inherent in his desire to give space and support for the artists and writers in this community was an enormous gift to us all.”
Chris could be adversarial and had a temper, which led to him being banished from the Provincetown Tennis Club, something he unsuccessfully fought for years. “He knew how to push people’s buttons,” artist Jerome Greene said. “We were both members of the Beachcombers,” an all-male club known as a bastion of traditional Provincetown artists. “But the more you knew him, the sweeter he got.”
Last year, Chris went through a bitter confrontation with the board of Provincetown Arts Press, and the board resigned. It was replaced and is now headed by Livia Tenzer. “He was a great man, sometimes stubborn,” said Ingrid Aue, the magazine’s marketing director. “I knew him for 25 years. We were a couple for a long time. It’s a big tree down.”
“The link that he had to the art community that Provincetown was will be diminished without his insistence on the memory, and to expand the intellectual realm,” said Schor.
Chris is survived by his siblings: Nicholas Busa of New York City; Marianne B. Miles of Sedona, Ariz., and her children, Leandra and Christopher; and Stephen Busa of Chatham; he was predeceased by his brother Paul. He is also survived by his former wives, Sandra Hricko of Minneapolis, Minn., and Gillian Drake of Eastham, as well as his ex-partner Ingrid Aue of Cambridge, and her sons, Julian and Justin Goodstein-Aue.
Donations in Chris’s memory may be made to Provincetown Arts Press, 650 Commercial St., Provincetown 02657. A special memorial fund is being established. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.