Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (Provincetown, MA)


  Highly textured and stylized painting of an unspoiled natural scene with a rider on horse

The Traveler, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. Photo by Hermann Feldhaus

Located at the very tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown, Massachusetts, has long had a reputation as a destination for artists. From Eugene O’Neill who tried out many of his early plays on the Provincetown Players to pioneering abstract modernist Hans Hoffman who founded a school there, the tiny fishing village is proven fertile ground for creative work. The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown (FAWC)—founded in 1968 by a group of writers and visual artists including former poet laureate Stanley Kunitz, a long time resident—continues this tradition by offering seven-month residencies to 20 writers and visual artists each winter. The Work Center received an NEA FY10 Access to Artistic Excellence grant to support the Winter Fellowship program, which from October to May provides the fellows with unfettered time to work on creative projects of their choosing. The residencies culminate in a public reading or gallery show during the spring.

Visual artist Mala Iqbal was a Winter Visual Arts Fellow at the FAWC in 1998-1999 and again in 1999-2000. Iqbal holds an MFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and has shown at many galleries in the United States and abroad.

NEA: In five words or less, how would you characterize your residency at the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC) in Provincetown?

MALA IQBAL: Concentrated and unfettered. Sand dunes.

NEA: What would you say is the most important thing that a residency like the Winter Fellowship at the Work Center offers to an artist?

IQBAL: Time! The farther away I am from my stint as a fellow, the more I see how precious time, and, specifically, an expansive, unstructured kind of time, is for an artist. FAWC had the perfect balance of stimulation and solitude for me. Space, of course was also key, especially for a visual artist, and the studios at FAWC are great. But time was the most important thing.

NEA: I know you had back-to-back residencies at the Work Center. How important were these residencies to your development as an artist?

IQBAL: I came to the Work Center right after [my master’s program] at the Rhode Island School of Design, so my first year at FAWC was like an extension of grad school, but one where I had to rely on myself for motivation and work out a studio practice that suited me best. The two residency periods at FAWC were like gasoline poured onto creative fires. I made ton of work--all manner of wacky things--and flailed around a lot. This laid the groundwork for the work that I made when I moved back to New York afterwards. And of course you don’t spend that much time with people without making some lasting relationships. I just realized that it was through former fellows that, over the years, I found a job, shows, a studio and an apartment.

NEA: Two of the unique aspects of the FAWC Winter Fellowships are the length of time—seven months—and that they bring together visual artists and writers.  What impact did these two factors have on your residency?

IQBAL: Residencies that offer shorter stays can be lifesavers for artists enmeshed in day-job land, but I think to really settle into the rhythms of making art and to have it be THE thing in your life, a long residency is the best. It takes time to be able to decompress and unhitch from one way of life onto another. Having a long residency takes away some of the stress that comes with trying to acclimate to a new environment and get working. Having writers and visual artists doing Winter Fellowships together is brilliant. It’s cool to get such an intimate look at how a completely different form of creativity works.

NEA: How does the atmosphere at the FAWC foster creativity in a way that’s different from working in your own studio at home?

IQBAL: Spending seven months in a semi-deserted resort town during the winter is magical and a bit nutty. Like being on a ship at sea during a long voyage: you appreciate the camaraderie, or at least have a feeling of solidarity. Everyone is in it together, and the long cold months provoke a certain generosity and an interest in the creative worlds of others (along with cabin fever, eccentricity, and lots of cooking) that you hopefully carry with you afterwards.

NEA: What would you say to encourage other artists to apply for a FAWC fellowship?

IQBAL: Think of it as being given seven months to become a superhero.

NEA: What would you say is one of the most important things you accomplished or produced during your residencies at the FAWC?

IQBAL: I made a lot of strange art, things that surprised me, because I relaxed enough to take the leap. And I read Moby Dick.

NEA: Any last words or anything you’d like to add?

IQBAL: I don’t know if the NEA is funding the Fine Arts Work Center, but if they aren’t, they should and if they are, they should double their support! The Europeans make this country look so lame with the tremendous support they give artists. FAWC’s Winter Fellowship is a unique program in a place with a long history as an art colony. It has changed the lives of many artists and writers whom I know.


Lupine Lake, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 18 inches. Photo by Mala Iqbal