Cape Cod’s beautiful beaches and quaint fishing villages contribute to its popularity as an idyllic tourist destination. For the area’s young people, however, it can be a difficult and isolating place in which to grow up.
“Although people don’t think of Provincetown or the Outer Cape that way, we really are a very rural area,” explains Lynn Stanley, Curator of Education for the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM). Given the seasonal economy and high unemployment rates, many families struggle to make ends meet. With limited transportation and after-school options, young people are often at a loss for productive ways to spend their time.
PAAM has had a strong commitment to education since its founding, nearly 100 years ago. In 2007, as the recession worsened, the museum stepped up to address the needs of underserved youth, stretching its resources to create an ambitious program called Art Reach. Aimed at 13- to 20-year-olds recruited from public schools, the program utilizes the arts to give young people a chance to nurture their creative talents and develop relationships with adults and peers. Recognizing that transportation was essential to the program’s success, PAAM took the leap to provide free van and bus service for participants, some of whom travel up to an hour each way to attend classes, held four times a week.
Because participation also depended on creating “a place where young people wanted to be,” says Stanley, the museum designed an eclectic and constantly evolving curriculum. Planned activities include creative collaborations; lectures on art, film, music, graphic novels, video production, and other media; and gallery talks. These are coupled with time to identify and realize individualized projects. Art Reach students have written original music; learned drypoint etching and silkscreen printing; written and illustrated graphic novels and comics; interpreted works of art from PAAM’s museum collection; created large and small figurative sculpture; and generated tattoo designs, video, photography, and content for the Art Reach website. Student work is then featured and celebrated in PAAM’s galleries during the program year.
As young people pursue their passions for activities like game design, they’re “showing a lot of the behaviors we want [them] to develop and practice in adult life,” including learning how to tackle challenges, set goals, and develop resilience to deal with failure, Stanley points out.
Although the program is small, averaging 15 to 20 participants annually, many remain with Art Reach for several years. In the end, both the participants and the institution reap benefits. Students gain valuable creative and life skills, while the museum nurtures a young audience of potential patrons. “We don’t want the museum to become a mausoleum,” asserts Stanley. “We hope that we’re developing the next generation of artists and museum supporters who will help carry us to our bicentennial.”
Through the opportunities the museum provides during out-of-school time, young people are embraced by the museum. Not surprisingly, they respond by embracing the museum as their community center and, in some cases, as a lifeline. All are exposed to quality arts-learning opportunities, the likes of which are rare in such a remote and isolated part of the state.H. Mark Smith YouthReach Program Manager, Massachusetts Cultural Council