Provincetown, MA
United States
Town Hall, 1 Ryder Street Provincetown AIDS Memorial since 16 June 2018
without names
After 15 years, Provincetown's AIDS Memorial is making waves
The town’s long-awaited AIDS Memorial will combine “the momentariness of the surface of the sea with the stability of the earth” in a 17-ton quartzite ode to those lost to the epidemic and to those who live on, says the artist who won a national search for proposals.
Lauren Ewing, a sculptor and installation artist who lives part-time in Provincetown, was the unanimous choice from 11 artists who submitted proposals after last year’s initial call for expressions of interest, says Cherie Mittenthal, a former chair and present member of the Provincetown Cultural Council.
The eight-member council, which operates under the Mass. Cultural Council program, spearheaded the project over the last 15 years and made up the bulk of the selection committee, along with representatives from the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod and the Provincetown Art Commission and the town manager.
“I was very surprised,” says Ewing about being notified in December that she had the winning proposal. “I’m a highly conceptual artist and this is not what might be expected for a memorial. It was a sophisticated [selection] committee and the work means a lot to me. I could tear up at any moment.”

The memorial will be made of carbon grey quartzite, a hard stone from Brazil chosen specifically because it can withstand the harsh environment of Cape Cod. Each of the two pieces weighs almost 8.5 tons. Ewing, a collaborator in the nonprofit Digital Stone Project created in 2005 to encourage technology in art making, traveled to the city of Carrara in Italy’s province of Tuscany, noted for its stone merchants, to find the material. There, the memorial will be mostly carved and etched by a computerized system of cutting tools.
The top of the square 9-by-9-foot piece, which will be hand-finished by the artist, reflects the rippling sea surrounding Provincetown.
“This is one of the most inspirational views,” says Ewing, looking out to Cape Cod Bay from the deck of her Commercial Street home. “It’s beautiful, powerful, threatening and soothing. People look out at the sea to clear their minds. There is awe. It’s about how deeply humans can feel. It’s appropriate for the sobriety of the monument.”
Her own relationship to the epidemic is as a gay American who watched people go through pain, fear and loss. “The prejudice was heartbreaking,” she explains. “What people did here when the rest of the world was freaking out — they offered an open heart before they thought of themselves. P’town cares about being a caring community.”
The memorial will sit on a 10-by-10-foot foundation and stainless steel pins, which will require a piece of precision work done by Provincetown’s Dept. of Public Works.
Marie Howe and Michael Klein, co-editors of the book “In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic,” will curate excerpts of poetry by five as-of-now undisclosed writers associated with Provincetown that will be etched on one side of the memorial, opposite the dedication. The word “Remembering” will be imprinted on the remaining two sides.
Members of the selection committee have lauded Ewing’s memorial for being culturally and geographically relevant.

“I’m excited to see it in place,” says Joe Carleo, executive director of the AIDS Support Group and a member of the selection committee. “It’s an appropriate memorial to those we’ve lost and to those who live here. It’s solid. Grounded. There is a sense of peace to it. It’s solemn, but not morose and it speaks to the idea that P’town was solidified [in the earliest days of the disease]. Provincetown had and continues to have a unique relationship with the disease. It will be a beautiful memorial to stand by and think.”
About 300 people live with HIV in P’town out of a total of about 700 on Cape Cod and the Islands. Provincetown has the highest per-capita rate of HIV infection in the state and one of the highest in the country, says Carleo. Six people have died of AIDS since January. The rate of infection in the region continues to be high, but treatment is also better.
“Provincetown was the first town in the country to step up to the AIDS crisis,” says Mittenthal, who has been involved in the memorial project since it was conceived. “People came here to die. They came to feel safe. For people who were living here at the time, it was awful to see the loss. We knew it was important to honor all of that.”
And the way it’s being honored is perfect.
“We were completely unanimous [about Ewing’s selection],” she says. “We wanted a memorial to how P’town lived through this and stepped up and how it was an incredible safe haven.”

The long delay, says Mittenthal, is due to a number of factors. Choosing an appropriate location for the memorial involved a lengthy site survey and analysis of options before the cultural council settled on the east lawn of Town Hall. There was also some initial resistance from the Provincetown Art Commission, another town board.
“In the embryonic stages of the project the art commission sought clarification of its role in the site selection of the memorial and the approval of the design,” says current art commission Chair Stephen Borkowski, whose group has a stake in the memorial because it will be part of the town’s permanent art collection. “Any discontent was a perception created by a previous administration.” Additions of public art enhance the experience of visitors and residents, he adds.
Since this project was the town’s first major modern-day foray in public art, creating the request for proposals that went out last year was slowed by changing town staff, legal procedures and procurement rules, says Mittenthal.
Then there was fundraising: while there was some public money invested early on in the project, the bulk of the budget was raised in the last two years from community-led parties and donations and private fundraisers — and surpassed the $75,000 goal by almost $6,000. The town has earmarked the extra money to fund the DPW’s building the foundation. The selectmen approved a $75,000 contract with Ewing earlier this month, which covers design, materials, fabrication, artist honorarium and expenses, engineering, transportation, documentation and installation oversight. At the same time, the town cut a first check of $11,700, with a scheduled rollout of future payments based on project completion.

Even with all that, Ewing has plans to raise another $20,000 to finish the piece to her standards.
“The budget for the memorial was $75,000,” says Mittenthal. “The artist chose an expensive material to work in and was willing to raise additional money for the project on her own. And that was allowable. We didn’t want it to slow down the process.”
Ewing and the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown will host an event during Labor Day weekend to sell four “companion” pieces — which will be 18-by-18-inch mini-memorials in honed Bardiglio marble from Italy. The details were still being worked out at press time, but the plan is for an opening reception on Sept. 1 and a special reception and fundraiser on Sept. 2. All proceeds will go to the completion of the memorial and the gallery and artist will forgo fees and commissions.
The timing of the memorial’s installation is also still being worked out; there is hope that it may be dedicated sometime before year’s end.
Image (c) Lauren Ewing WickedLocal

25 May 2017
Ian Edwards, Provincetown