A day at Hyannis Harbor: Summertime at the artist shanties

Spend an art-FULL day on Hyannis Harbor at the HyArts Artist Shanties at Bismore Park. Photo courtesy of HyArts Cultural District.

All across Cape Cod, summer visitors are drawn to the harbors. The rhythm of the fishing fleet, the ferries shuttling visitors here and there and the charters bringing recreational fishermen out for an adventure can be entertaining enough.

But at Hyannis Harbor, summertime fun has reached a whole new level.

Seaside Studios

In 2005, the Town of Barnstable built a shanty village for artists in Bismore Park, right on the harbor. Seven shanties--each named after a Barnstable village--and a boardwalk are surrounded by a sea of grass at the water's edge. The "seaside studios" were created to bring local artists and visitors together. 

Artists apply to be part of the program, which is run by the town's Arts & Culture Coordinator, Melissa Hersh. Hersh has been at the helm of the program since 2008. A decade ago, the Town of Barnstable's Growth Management Economic Development realized both the cultural and economic impact of the arts on Cape Cod. "The artist shanty program was the first in our series of arts-related strategies to enliven the area," Hersh said. The program is part of the larger HyArts Cultural District in Hyannis. In addition to the artist shanty program, HyArts fosters creativity through gallery shows, workshops, live stage performances, concerts and other free fun. 

Working Harbor, Working Studios

The shanties are studios in which the artists work during their tenancy. This open workspace offers visitors a peek into the artist's process and allows artist and patron to engage on a more personal level than a standard gallery show. 

Participating artists must be Cape Cod residents. Their work must be juried and must qualify for the program--all works must be original--handmade or hand-crafted.

Each artist is assigned a shanty where they set up shop for a week. Mid-May through Columbus Day, artists rotate through the season--some covering multiple weeks. In all, more than 85 artists will participate in the 2016 program. The artists work in many mediums from watercolors, pastels and oils to fiber art, photography, scrimshaw, jewelry and pottery. When asked if visitors seem to prefer a particular medium Hersh said, "There is no one favorite--too many choices--and everyone has stories to share about what visitors purchase."

In addition to the working waterfront, visitors will also see the artists at work. "They work and sell--you may see someone painting, working on a loom, sewing machine, wood carving or threading beads, to name a few."

The Artists

Hersh said artists are polled about their experience each season. "Interaction with customers is priceless," said one artist. "I get custom work as well as ideas which I incorporate into my designs." Another artist said they enjoy meeting and talking to people from all over the world.

"My favorite thing about the shanties is meeting all the wonderful people--local residents, visitors from all over the world and such a variety of creative artists, all of whom make the shanties such fun," said Leslie Altman. Altman, who has lived in Yarmouth Port for 40 years (13 year-round), is an artist who loves to paint Bone Hill Road in Cummaquid, the Mill Lane Boat House and Bass Hole in Yarmouth Port. Altman has studied with Robert Mesrop and works in watercolors. She spent a week in May in the shanties this season and will return the week of August 15-21.

Jane Baker doesn't have a favorite thing about the shanties yet as this is her first year. "I'm excited to bring my work down Cape to such a vibrant place and it looks like it will be a great opportunity," she said. Baker grew up in Falmouth where she still lives and says Woods Hole is her favorite place to work. She creates short-edition, hand-painted wood cuts. "My most Cape Cod influence is the shoreline and marine animals that we have here. You will always see cormorants on the rocks, you will always catch a scup if you jig with squid bait, you will see the catch in the fish totes on the town dock. My mother worked for NOAA Fisheries [in Woods Hole] when I was young so I would often sit in in the aquarium during off hours drawing the creatures in the tanks," Baker said. Jane Baker will be at the shanties the week of August 15-21.

The Visitors

"Thousands of people pass through on any given day during the shanty season," Hersh said. Last season, those people came from all over New England, the United State and Canada. Some were from the UK, France, Germany and Sweden, others were from China and Japan. Still others came from as far away as South America, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia. 

Visitors are encouraged to browse through the shanties, there is no admission fee. The lawn overlooking Hyannis Harbor is the perfect setting for a picnic lunch. During the months of July, August and September, free concerts are held at the shanties. On Saturdays in July and August from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, the Singer Songwriter Spotlight Series at the Shanties features talented local artists. On Saturdays from 2pm to 3pm in September, September Sounds at the Shanties shines a spotlight on talented local groups.

The View

It is easy to see why the town picked Bismore Park for the shanty village. "You certainly can't beat the view!" Hersh said. "There is a tremendous synergy in this unique downtown setting with a busy Main Street complete with shops, restaurants and businesses steps away from this working waterfront. It is quite an opportunity for exposure for the artists and a wonderful backdrop for visitors (locals and travelers alike) to stop and spend more time not only at the art shanties, but in downtown Hyannis and the HyArts Cultural District."

Bismore Park is easy to get to. The ferry depot/dock is next door to the artist shanties and you must pass Bismore Park to get to popular Veterans and Kalmus Beaches and the John F. Kennedy Memorial. Bismore Park is also part of the Walkway to the Sea--a brick path connecting bustling Main Street and the picturesque Hyannis Village Green to the waterfront.

"It is easy to spend an art-FULL day in Hyannis," Hersh said.

The HyArts Artist Shanties are at Bismore Park, 180 Ocean Street in Hyannis. See a list of artists participating in 2016 here. The shanties, which opened in May, are now open daily from 11:00am to at least 8:00pm through September 4. Between September 5 and Columbus Day (October 10) they will be open daily from 11:00am to at least 6:00pm.

Walk along the boardwalk connecting the artist shanties after a delicious lunch at one of the many seafood restaurants in walking distance. Photo by Maggie Kulbokas.

Enjoy a Saturday concert (afternoons in September and evenings in July and August. Photo courtesy of HyArts Cultural District.

Chat with the artist before taking home a piece of Cape Cod. Photo by Maggie Kulbokas.

A plein air painter works outside the shanties at Bismore Park on Hyannis Harbor. Photo courtesy of HyArts Cultural District.

About the Author

The CapeCodTravel staff aims to bring you the best of Cape Cod including tips from hospitality experts about the best places to eat, the best places to stay and how to make the most of your Cape Cod vacation.