PROVINCETOWN — For the eighth year in a row, Wednesdays in winter have been brightened by free classes for adults at the Provincetown Schools.
They begin in January, when even twilight is over by 5 p.m., and evenings can seem impossibly long. Headlights fill the Grace Hall parking lots as eight instructors and more than 100 students arrive for classes that include tarot reading, cookie baking, drawing, creative writing, and sculpting with clay.
The Winter Wednesdays program began in 2017 as a collaboration between Provincetown’s library, health dept., and schools, said Morgan Clark, the town’s former health director.
“The school was about to eliminate its traditional adult education classes, which cost about $60 a season, because so few people were showing up,” said Clark. “Meanwhile, the library was looking to do more community programming, and the health dept. was trying to fight isolation.
“There’s a whole school of thought in public health that the opposite of addiction is connection,” Clark said. From the beginning, Winter Wednesdays followed the “Iceland model,” named for a successful campaign against youth addiction in that country that emphasized removing barriers to social participation.
“Iceland reduced its substance abuse numbers drastically by removing barriers, which is why Winter Wednesdays classes have always been free and have always included free rides and child care,” Clark said. “We also originally didn’t require registration or allow the classes to build on the week prior, because we wanted people to feel free to drop in halfway through or switch classes every week.”
That aspect has changed — instructors are now allowed to design classes that build from week to week — and the program has also grown. The Truro Health Dept. joined in 2022, and a grant secured by Outer Cape Community Solutions extended the program to all four Outer Cape towns the next year.
Courses were taught at seven different locations this year, including each town’s library, and 10 classes were taught entirely online — a legacy of 2021, when Covid turned the program into an online-only “Winter Whenevers.”
Provincetown Library Director Amy Raff and the program’s part-time coordinator, Shane Landry, kept the program going in that difficult Covid year, Clark said. “Honestly, Shane was a volunteer in 2017, and he took the challenge on and figured it out — he’s made the entire thing work,” Clark said.
The coordinator is paid a stipend, and instructors receive $50 per class. The program pays for all kinds of materials — even the tea and cake for the online “death café” discussion group.
After seven years as coordinator, Landry has passed the job on to Lesley Marchessault, who lives in Wellfleet.
“We want to keep this beautiful energy in Provincetown and expand what we’re offering in the other towns, particularly by recruiting more teachers,” said Marchessault. “There’s a lot more we can be doing in the Outer Cape towns, and putting the word out in the community is how we’ll get there.”