In Worcester, I got involved with a group of artists, and I helped organize, construct, and run an entity called the Grove Street Gallery, which was an artist cooperative. In those days we had anywhere from 25 to 50 artists in the cooperative. We moved into an old mill space and painted and scraped and built seven studios. We had about 3,000 square feet of studio space and another 3,000 for exhibition space. Hence my involvement here, you know.
At the Yarmouth Seaside Festival in 2002, I happened upon a small group sitting around a card table passing out literature about the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. At that point, it was just a concept. After asking to see the building (formerly the Bass River Savings Bank), they set up a tour. I walked into the building and it took my breath away on two fronts. One, the underlying beauty of the building. And two, the stench. I mean it was rife with mold and mildew and animals. It was just awful, it really was a mess. But I think I immediately conjured a vision of what this place could be with a little tender loving care and a considerable amount of money.
Early on there was an architect involved that had the building reconstruction pegged at $2.3 million. In the end, we completed the job for $750,000. We opened our doors in February 2007.
The Cultural Center has just been an incredible phenomenon. It’s a classic “If you build it, they will come.” I had no idea to what extent it would be successful. The center is used by all segments of the population. In 2010 alone, we will have done 87 exhibits and, beyond that, approximately 600 to 700 events.
For the most part, I come in and the woman at the front desk hands me something from an artist that wants to exhibit or a CD from a singer that wants to sing here. There’s a whole pile of requests. And a lot of it fits within our criteria, it’s just that we don’t have the space and time. If you look at the calendar and said, “Well, there’s a hole on this day, why don’t you do something then? It’s because we need to sleep sometimes.” (laughs)
Our real passion here is to accommodate the art community—not just established artists, but emerging artists as well. We take a democratic approach to doing that. If someone’s not at the pinnacle of their artistic endeavors, we will still accommodate them and show their work. And they walk away from it with a heightened sense of their work, what’s good and what’s not. Especially when they’re in close proximity to other artists—you put your stuff on a wall next to somebody else’s, you may walk away with something you didn’t have before that you can now bring to your own artwork.
The discipline it takes to be an artist is something that’s typically misunderstood. And when you see how hard and how difficult the processes an artist will use to come up with a finished product are, you get a real sense of the importance of creating and doing good art.
You don’t have to look too far in Yarmouth to find good subject matter. Some years ago, there was a fairly decent snowstorm. It wasn’t one of the terrible ones that keeps you trapped in your house for three days, but it was close to that. I’d gotten up that morning—at the time I had a big Jeep. I took my camera, got in my Jeep, and off I went. I did a whole series of images starting with the Bass River Mercantile across the way, drove by the Cultural Center, down Old Main Street, down to the Judah Baker Windmill, then back around. There’s such intrinsic beauty in everything I passed that morning, mostly because of the freshly fallen snow and the kind of light that was on everything that morning. There’s so much beauty here on the Cape, and Yarmouth certainly has its fair share. Between Bass Hole and Bass River, the boardwalk by Gray’s Beach, the hiking trails, Matakese, the cranberry bogs. A lot of this stuff is kind of cliché as far as subject matter, but that’s the challenge: to find something different and unique about a typical location.