In North Adams, Mass MoCA Museum Is Even Bigger!

Mass MOCA is set to be the world's largest museum of contemporary art after a 140,000 square foot renovation in 2016.
Mass MoCA is the world’s largest museum of contemporary art after a 140,000 square foot renovation in 2016.

By Emily Johnson

mass moca

North Adams’s Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, known as Mass MoCA, is already HUGE.

The center, which engages all forms of arts in its outdoor and indoor venues, will house more than 540,000 feet of gallery space, which will double its current gallery footprint. For a size comparison, the massive Louvre, in Paris, is 650,000 square feet.

The giant museum expanded another 140,000 square feet in 2016-2017 and is now one of the biggest museums in the world!

Building Six

By renovating Building 6, Mass MoCA allows for long-term art installations from prominent artists Robert Rauschenberg, Laurie Anderson, Jenny Holzer, Louise Bourgeois, James Turrell, and Gunnar Schonbeck.

Mass MoCA, in its 19th century mill factory buildings, opened in 1999. Since then, the museum has introduced many diverse projects. The museum hosts the band Wilco’s Solid Sound Music Festival every other summer and Fresh Grass, a big bluegrass and country music festival, every fall.

A New Microbrewery

Eric Kerns Orion Howard
Eric Kerns, on right, with Bright Ideas co-founder Orion Howard. Photo by Nick Swanson for The Beacon.

Eric Kerns, who described the city as a place where this change can take place, opened a microbrewery on the Mass MOCA campus last year in 2015. Kerns moved from New York City to North Adams a decade ago and has been purchasing old properties, like a mill and the Redwood Motel, located nearby.

Bright Ideas Brewing is just the first of many exciting developments in the space that was once a factory that made electrical machinery. The town, too, is poised for growth and new businesses and hopefully, more tourists.

Kerns and his team of developers, which includes Wilco bassist John Stirratt, plan to revitalize these properties like the motel, as a more innovative lodging option for visitors, especially with a large number of people that Solid Sound will bring in to town.

The motel, near Mass MoCA, meets the Appalachian Trail by the Hoosic River, so Kerns hopes to make the motel’s surrounding nature an important element to its revitalization.

D is painted in public art, with murals under bridges and sidewalk cracks colored gold. Jarvis Rockwell’s art showing at the Down Street Art Festival, July 28.

Kerns is just one North Adams resident building the city’s community through his own passion of beer. Kerns said that a common sentiment in the minds of millennials is this idea of changing the world. He said, “You do so by changing a community.”

MoCA Was the Catalyst

The local art and cultural community of North Adams have been activated by Mass MoCA, which has the vision to embrace all forms of today’s art. The museum offers art from well-known and emerging artists and more than 75 performances year-round, as well as participatory classes for any passionate artists.

North Adams has “turned a new corner,” a metaphor former Mayor Richard Alcombright used to describe the recent changes in this city. The western Massachusetts hub is the ideal modern city that is finding the bridge between its historic background and a thriving culture of creativity and progress.

Driving through the city, you sense that behind the shuttered former factories and crumbling buildings, new life is being hatched.

Once a picturesque Berkshires vacation town, North Adams has modernized reflective in the city’s art, culture, and entertainment. Mass MoCA estimates 120,000 attendees annually, but locals hope the museum’s expansion will drive more non-locals to the city.

A Changing Tide in North Adams

Wilco's Solid Sound festival brings thousands to MOCA every other year for music, comedy and films. Max Hartshorne photo.
Wilco’s Solid Sound festival brings thousands to MOCA every other year for music, comedy, and films. Max Hartshorne photo.

At the city’s DownStreet Art Festival in July an event that showcases the work of local artisans from artists to candlemakers to bakers, the art showing of Jarvis Rockwell at his gallery symbolized the changing tide.

His father Norman Rockwell’s art was characterized as the all-American, while Jarvis’s work is experimental in his use of figurines. The Rockwell Museum is located in nearby Stockbridge, Mass.

North Adams resident and the city’s Director of Community Events Suzy Helme pointed out colorful murals under bridges and sidewalk cracks colored gold, and said, “That’s what I love about North Adams.

The city is painted in public art.” Aside from galleries, the downtown stimulates artistic expression outdoors.

The city houses Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College is in nearby Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Embracing the Urbanness

Former Mayor Alcombright said that the city is “embracing the urbanness.”

Despite the push to expand and modernize, the city has not lost touch with its rich history, clear in their renovations of old, disused and abandoned buildings.

The locals emphasized how it is possible to create change in North Adams, and the artists there do so by stimulating a local community passionate in its culture and art. Their goal for the future is clear: bring more visitors into North Adams with whom to share this great place.

Cheap Rent

With the city’s cheap rent and daring artistic expansions in this upcoming year, travelers should look no further than this western Massachusetts city to visit – or even to settle down and call it their home.

In one of Mass MoCA's large exhibit rooms, an art show from China graced the ceilings in 2013.
In one of Mass MoCA’s large exhibit rooms, an art show from China graced the ceilings in 2013.
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