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Cultural Hub

From the Wall Street Journal:

When it opens, it will be the first destination hotel in this once-great manufacturing town. But visionary ideas have been percolating in North Adams since the mid-’80s, when plans emerged to renovate a 28-building industrial campus, the former Sprague Electric capacitor plant—at one time the city’s biggest employer—into a showcase for cutting-edge art. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (or Mass MoCA), which opened there in 1999 after a long gestation, has helped transform the city. “We saw the [plant] closing, the desperation in the community,” says North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. “And we all admit one thing, resoundingly: Where the hell would we be if it were not for Mass MoCA?”

A slew of projects, starting to roll in this summer with the mayor’s support, promises a leap forward, further changing North Adams into a destination for art and performance, accommodation and food. It may be a turning point for a city that’s dealing with population depletion, high unemployment and addiction rates and empty storefronts that starkly contrast with the well-heeled Williamstown, home to Williams College, right next door.

Read the whole thing. There is a great senior thesis to be written about the rise of North Adams as a cultural destination. Who will write it?

And there’s much more in the pipeline for North Adams. Though clearly ambitious, the ventures under construction this summer are a fraction of the city’s proposed master plan, a grand scheme to build a “cultural corridor” that’s currently outlined in blueprints and feasibility studies, featuring at least four new museums along with a distillery and “art hotel,” both designed by Jean Nouvel. It’s all the brainchild of Thomas Krens, who hatched the original idea for Mass MoCA before moving to New York in 1988 to run the Guggenheim for almost 20 years.

Krens, who has a home in neighboring Williamstown, would not discuss details of his official return to the Berkshires, but they’re easy to discover by talking to local power players. His Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum, a quirky 34,000-square-foot institution featuring model trains zipping by landmark buildings by architects such as Frank Gehry, is most likely to break ground first, followed by the Global Contemporary Art Museum, a motorcycle museum and a museum of time. If even a portion of the plan gets off the ground, it may be as significant for the area as Mass MoCA’s opening 18 years ago. “We’re one attraction away,” says Mayor Alcombright, “from being a weeklong place to be.”

Is there an alum who has had more of an impact on the local area than Krens? If so, who?


Geometric Death Frequency-141


Via Flowing Data:

“Federico is the ultimate shape-shifter, in a way,” said MASS MoCA director Joseph C. Thompson in a statement. “The bricks and mullions and windows of our buildings become files of digital data; the pixels become black spheres meticulously cut, stacked and assembled; the courtyard becomes and contains sculpture. There’s something alchemical or magical about it, and all the while Federico remains behind the curtain, as if to say, ‘Look ma, no hands.'”

Federico Diaz: Geometric Death Frequency-141-spot from federico diaz on Vimeo.

More here. Informed commentary for artists and physicists would be welcome.


Material World

A sneak peek of a new exhibit at Mass MoCA, set to open on April 24.

As Aidan points out, this is reminiscent in form of the “Narrow are the Vessels” exhibit from last year:

More about that here.


WOW: Wilco at MassMoca

The Wilco Solid Sound Festival will be held August 13-15 at MassMoca.  Tickets go on sale Friday.  Kind of a bummer that the biggest pop music event in who-knows-how-many years in the Berkshires is occurring when very few students will be in town … still, this is a major coup for MassMoca, and for North Adams in general.  If you aren’t familiar with Wilco, you should be.  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is inarguably one of the ten best albums of the aughts.


Reckoning With Gravity

MassMoca is currently featuring a very cool exhibit in its massive gallery, Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With, by Eph artist (and Bicentennial Medal winner) Inigo Manglano-Ovalle ’83.

You can watch numerous videos of Manglano-Orvalle discussing his work and his view on art at the PBS website.  One of his video installations is currently being exhibited at the WCMA.

Speaking of prominent artist alums, check out the latest work from Camille Utterback ’92.


Heck of a Weekend at Williams …

Whether you are an alumnus in town for the big game, or an undergrad looking for ways to distract yourself from approaching finals, this weekend should be a fun one on and around campus.  One suggested itinerary:

  • Thursday night, check out jazz/funk legends Medeski Martin & Wood at MassMoca.
  • Friday night, check out one of Eph Stephen Sondheim’s best musicals, Company, at the ’62 Center Mainstage.
  • Saturday morning, catch the first half of the women’s soccer NCAA contest before sprinting over to Weston Field for the Amherst game.  More info on Homecoming events here.
  • Saturday night, don’t miss the Octet’s 35th Reunion Concert, featuring tons of Octet alumni making it back to campus to perform.
  • Sunday morning, depending on Saturday’s results, make the 45 minute drive to Troy to support men’s soccer against host RPI in NCAA action, or head down to Cole Field to catch the women in second round action.  (Alums pay special heed to this one — Troy is on the way home for anyone from the NYC area crashing in Williamstown Saturday night!).

“Williamstown” Update, Part Four: North Adams Edition

The expansion of MassMoca is not to be missed: the architecture is incredible, and the Lewitt exhibit is, for the first time, a permanent installation that can even trump the breathtaking space housing it.  Here are some pictures, concluding one of the author for those brave enough to venture below the break.


Architectural detail from the gorgeous connector between Lewitt and the rest of the museum:


Read more


Sounds of Silence

WilliamstownJazzFestivalDue to budget-cutting at Williams, its major source of funding, the Williamstown Jazz Festival has ceased operation. The annual multi-day spring program had included music, dance, film, and an intercollegiate jazz competition, and was run as a collaboration amongst Williams, the Chamber of Commerce, MASS MoCA, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, with additional venues provided by St. John’s Episcopal Church and the Clark. Some events had free admission; others had an admission charge, but that did not bring in nearly enough to keep the festival going once Williams ended its subsidy.

For more about the festival, go here. (A link at the top of that site opens up a sampling that includes snatches from Williams jazz and gospel choir groups and a faculty jazz group.)

This is a true loss to Williams, to music groups from many colleges, and to Williamstown and the surrounding communities. I am grateful to the people who had the vision to start the Jazz Festival and to those who made it happen every year. My heart goes out to them and to the people who had the difficult task of deciding whether to continue the funding from Williams.

May more abundant times return soon.

(Thanks to Frank for alerting us to the festival’s demise via a post in in Speak Up!)


MassMoca Anniversary, Part Two

Check out another great article on MassMoca, again highlighting alums Krens and Thompson, to add to last week’s compendium


Ten Years of MassMoca

This weekend, MassMoca celebrated its ten year anniversary.  Its impact on the region, and on North Adams in particular, can not be overstated.  Without MassMoca, there is no Porches Inn.  There is no Gramercy Bistro or Taylor’s Fine Dining.  There is likely no stadium style movie theater in North Adams.  There would not be a viable future for a restored Mohawk Theater.  There certainly would not be a DownStreet Art gallery tour, an initiative that has turned a bad economy into a positive local enterprise by doubling its utilization of vacant downtown space in just one year.  (It’s just a shame that all of the MassMoca-spurred development occurred subsequent to the criminally stupid “urban renewal” that destroyed much of North Adams’ historic downtown in favor of a strip mall …).

Kudos to MassMoca founder Thomas Krens ’69 and founding (and current) Director Joseph Thompson ’81, two Ephs who had the vision to see something spectacular where everyone else just saw blighted, abandoned factory buildings in a town decimated by industrial upheaval.  It is a testament to the strength of their vision that, only ten years later, the notion of repurposing industrial buildings in blighted or rural communities as a means of economic revitalization has become almost trite.

And MassMoca continues to be a pioneer: with its recent highly-regarded Sol Lewitt installation, its partnership with the Clark, its continued integration of commercial and municipal space into its complex, its outreach to kids, and its environmental initiatives.  All in all, the museum is arguably the largest contribution Williams and its alumni have made to the greater Berkshire region in recent memory.


MassMoca Tarps

Great NYTimes article on the resolution of a hotly disputed exhibit in the enormous gallery at MassMoca. Even before I reached the last few paragraphs of this article, I was guessing this dispute was fabricated, all part of the experience. Maybe I’ve just seen too much contemporary art. I wouldn’t be shocked if MassMoca was in on it: the tarps practically scream of conceptual art, particularly given the themes of this exhibit. And even if unplanned, the tarps will undoubtedly come to be viewed as part of the art by critics.

Speaking of North Adams, the Mohawk will be opening sooner rather than later: should provide another huge boost for downtown. For a great summary of recent changes to downtown North Adams, including photos, read this recent Berkshire Eagle article.


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