Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
On a recent sunny, warm August day my wife and I day tripped to a hidden treasure in North Adams, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or as it is more commonly known, MASS MoCA, is tucked away in the far northwest corner of Massachusetts, nestled in the rolling Berkshire mountains, and is a wonderful museum that the entire family can enjoy. It makes for a great day trip if you live in the New England region.
It’s roughly 3-4 hours from Boston and costs $15 for adult day passes so you can spend endless hours going through the numerous galleries. The museum also has a gift shop, café, formal restaurant, and what appeared to be an antique and craft store, so there is something for everyone.
We drove out from the Worcester, Massachusetts area and went west on I90, north on I91, then west on Route 2, which is very mountainous and winds along a river bed of massive boulders. There are also a couple of summits with vantage points where you can see over 100 miles on a clear day (or so the signs say). I imagine in the fall, when the leaves are changing color, that the views must be an overpowering vista of red and gold as far as the eye can see. Be sure to bring your camera as there are many opportunities for picture taking.
Mass MOCA Entrance
Specifically, the museum is located at 87 Marshall Street in the old mill town of North Adams. It is the largest center for contemporary visual arts in the country, with over 100,000 square feet of exhibition space on a 24 acre site. The museum is basically a campus of buildings that were installed in the old red brick buildings of a former textile mill. One cavernous gallery appears to be larger than a football field and looks like it could store a jumbo jet.
The museum opened in 1999, but many of the old brick buildings have been there since the 1800’s. The Arnold Print Works was the first occupant and built many of the structures between 1860 and 1900 to support production of their printed cloth products. They famously supplied the uniforms for the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1905 the company employed over 3,200 workers and was the leading manufacturer of printed textiles in the world. Sadly, it was forced to close in 1942 due to lingering effects of the Great Depression.
Bell Tower Reflection
The Sprague Electric Company took over the site in the 1940’s and made capacitors for the war effort and later for NASA. The company became a leader in the research, design, and manufacture of these electronic components and employed 4,137 people at its peak in the late 1960’s, which is an amazing total considering the town of North Adams had less than 20,000 residents at the time. Unfortunately, the company closed in 1985 due to overseas competition, which devastated the local economy.
In the late 1990’s interest was shown in converting the vacant site into an art museum. The state of Massachusetts thought this was a good idea and granted the project $18.6 million dollars to make it happen. North Adams appears to have had something of a renaissance and I imagine part of it is due to the presence of the museum, which attracts visitors from all over the region.
I have included pictures from our trip to help show the museum and its many displays and galleries. It is well worth the journey and I can definitely see us going back sometime in the future.