PROVINCETOWN — The Fine Arts Work Center notified participants in its summer workshops by email on April 29 that the entire program had been postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus. FAWC’s week-long workshops in creative writing and visual arts, led by renowned faculty, attract students from near and far and are an important funding source for its prestigious winter fellowships.
“It was a monumental decision, very difficult for everyone,” Richard MacMillan, FAWC’s executive director, told the Independent. “But as more and more information became clear to us, we realized that we just couldn’t, in all confidence and fairness, keep people hanging.”
MacMillan estimated that over half of the staff and students come from out of town, some having to plan flights from overseas.
Though FAWC’s decision may have come first, other Outer Cape arts organizations are grappling with similar scenarios.
Kiah Coble, curator of adult education at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, said, “We have officially rescheduled or put online all our workshops for May and June. We’re waiting to see how things evolve, and what the C.D.C. recommendations and local bylaws are for July and August.”
Though PAAM has not yet canceled or postponed summer classes, plans are being made for what they might look like, with smaller classes (capped at five students), social distancing, mask-wearing, and increased sanitation.
Coble said that the health of students and staff is the top priority. “If there is a possibility that we can do classes in a capacity that feels safe, I absolutely want to do it,” she said. “I don’t want to decide to cancel the summer program, then realize there was an opportunity to run small courses.”
The decision for PAAM is not as fraught as it was for FAWC. The majority of teaching staff are year-rounders. And PAAM, as an exhibiting museum and membership organization, is less reliant on revenue from classes.
On the other hand, Cherie Mittenthal, executive director of Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill, estimated that 60 percent of her organization’s revenue comes from classes. When Castle Hill canceled classes through July 3, including its annual encaustic conference in Provincetown, it took a big hit, but staff has not been furloughed thanks to a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“We are still debating where we are going to land, but the current plan is, while taking into account the advice of the state and governor, we are not going to cancel everything for the summer,” Mittenthal said. “We are going to strongly modify our program and create specialty classes that can hopefully happen throughout July, and definitely August, as well as the fall.”
Mittenthal said that safety measures may include decreasing class sessions to four a week, limiting their size, requiring masks and gloves, sanitation measures, and doing landscape and sculpture classes outside. After acquiring its Edgewood Farm campus in 2016, Castle Hill does not lack space. If all else fails, it may do online classes only, although these would be carefully crafted and cost less.
But numerous unknowns remain. “Will people feel comfortable enough to come?” Mittenthal asked. “Nobody knows the answer yet.” Short-term rental availability is also a consideration. “We are taking it month to month. Obviously, we don’t want to plan and then have to cancel.”
MacMillan’s decision to cancel was a combination of courtesy for staff and students and heeding scientific advice, he said. “We can’t police social distancing,” he said. “We are not health care people.”
Enrollees at FAWC have been given the option of a total refund, deferring until next year, or writing off tuition payments as gifts. MacMillan said that about 15 percent have made a gift, while 60 percent have asked for a refund. FAWC, too, has not had to lay off staff, thanks to a PPP loan.
But he didn’t downplay the gravity of the situation. “The summer program is designed to develop revenue to support the fellowship program,” he said. “Loss of this revenue jeopardizes the fellowships. It’s a domino effect.” He added that no final decisions have been made about the fellowship program.
In the meantime, FAWC will continue to engage its artists. The 24 Pearl Street Online Writing Workshops are being revamped to include more interactive and real-time elements.
“I felt we needed to move on and take the time to reinvent the experience so that we don’t lose people,” MacMillan said. “You can lose people by waiting, you can lose people by not being transparent, and I felt we had been waiting long enough.”