PROVINCETOWN — Every summer for the last 34 years the fat and glossy Provincetown Arts magazine has hit the newsstands with a proud thump.
On its pages — and this year’s edition had a colorful 156 of them — mingle the work of artists, performers, and writers, connected to the town whether by deep roots or temporary lifelines. Its purpose, says the publication’s website, is to “stimulate creative activity and enhance public awareness of the cultural life of the nation’s oldest continuous art colony.”
But this fall has been tumultuous for the nonprofit publication and for one of its creators, Editorial Director Christopher Busa.
Eight of the magazine’s 11 board members recently resigned. A Sept. 27 resignation letter signed by three of the eight, board president Michael Jones, board member David Keller, and Brett Sokol, the board’s treasurer, points to a falling out with Busa.
“It has become clear that it is not possible for us to collaborate in a productive manner with Chris Busa or to ensure our legal and fiduciary obligations as board members to safeguard the financial health of the magazine,” the letter says.
A week before that resignation letter was proffered, another letter was sent to the board via email by Livia Tenzer, who has been a contributor to the magazine. No single author is identified in this letter, but 87 people, including prominent writers, artists, gallery owners, and advertisers, signed on as friends of the magazine. The letter outlines a number of problems facing Provincetown Arts, focusing in particular on actions of the board’s executive committee.
The Independent was not able to establish who the members of that committee were.
The friends’ letter refers to communications from Busa and executive committee members “that have circulated widely.” The signers say they learned the committee had involved itself in decisions about workflow, hiring, and dismissal of key staff, putting operations at risk while not carrying out “their primary duty: raising funds.”
The letter makes serious accusations of mismanagement, including “justifying not paying for contracted work,” “leveling false allegations” against then freelance editors Melenie Freedom Flynn and Elizabeth Winston, and “disparaging treatment” of the magazine’s longtime art director, Irene Lipton.
One response to the accusations against the executive committee came in the form of a letter from Truro poet Mary Maxwell to friends of the magazine, dated Oct. 4. According to Maxwell, Busa himself, whom she characterized as “increasingly confused,” was the one who had initially challenged both the quality of the work of Freedom Flynn and Winston and the amounts of money they were being paid.
Maxwell is married to Keller, one of the board members who has resigned, and she herself served on the Arts board of directors for 10 years. In her Oct. 4 letter, she resigned from her 10-year role on the magazine’s advisory board. (Maxwell and Keller are investors in the Provincetown Independent.)
Maxwell’s letter goes on to say that, contrary to disparaging Winston, “the board was extremely impressed with her credentials” when she presented her resume for consideration as editor-in-chief.
The financial health of the magazine is clearly a concern of all parties. Maxwell’s response points to a “dire financial situation” as a reason for the executive committee’s questioning of hiring practices at the magazine and its inability to offer a full-time position to Winston. The friends’ letter, too, had called for “a plan to pay debts.”
Maxwell wrote that the executive committee did have a plan in place for long-term viability, and as for the friends’ accusation that the board had failed to raise any money to support the magazine, Maxwell was clear: “Board contributions alone in 2019 approached 20 percent of the operating budget.”
“I’ve always thought of my relationship as more familial than professional,” Maxwell wrote. Her resignation was, she said, “an extremely painful thing to do.”
Neither Maxwell nor Keller returned calls from the Independent seeking comment.
Busa feels ‘elated’
Reached by phone this week, Busa said he’s “feeling slightly elated to get rid of this board.”
According to Busa, of the eight resignations only Jones’s, Keller’s, and Sokol’s were due to a disagreement with him. The rest, he said, were routine retirements. While Busa said he regrets losing Keller and Jones, he accused Sokol of being behind “a series of actions that took place behind my back and against my will,” including, this fall, a magazine cover shoot that occurred without his knowledge.
Sokol, arts editor of the publication Ocean Drive in Miami, said he would not want to comment for this article.
Lipton, who had worked with Busa for 18 years on Provincetown Arts, also had a falling out with him. Though their relationship is now repaired, she said she resigned from the magazine shortly after a July board meeting when Sokol was selected as the next editor. At that time, Busa and the board were in agreement on this. She said the board was rude and dismissive of the work and credentials of Winston, who is now the magazine’s senior editor, and of Freedom Flynn.
Busa said it was Lipton’s resignation that first made him seriously question his board. As the summer progressed Busa also became “uncomfortable with the amount of control the board was taking,” said Winston, who lives near Washington, D.C. but has ties to Provincetown. She said board members had offered to pay her less money than had been agreed to, though they eventually paid her invoice in full.
Next year, Busa said, will be the 35th anniversary of the magazine, and he’s looking forward to a new “stellar” board.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Busa said, “we’re flying high.”
As of Tuesday, the magazine’s website listed just four board members: Busa, Alexandra Cromwell, Paul Endich, and Catherine Mosley.