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New England News

Beck Concert Latest In MASS MoCA's Performance Résumé

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MASS MoCA
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About 5,000 people are expected to turn out for the Beck concert at MASS MoCA in North Adams Tuesday. It’s the latest proof that the art museum has become a key performance venue in the region.

Beck Hansen, an artist who rose to fame in the 1990s, is well known for his wide range of music styles. As such, the crowd he attracts fits right in with the mission of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, according to director Joseph Thompson.

“We just find that they are open to what we show in the galleries and we like the cross-fertilization that happens between the stages, the public spaces, the exhibitions and galleries,” Thompson said. “It’s a wonderful way to grow new audiences and to expose people who might be unsuspecting art lovers or art lovers who don’t quite know it yet.”

The museum has been offering music, dance and theatre performances since it opened in the former Arnold Print Works and Sprague Electric buildings 15 years ago. The former mill buildings that date back to the 1860s allow for large-scale exhibits, a luxury not available in many museums. Thompson says the original idea was to have enormous artwork on display for extended periods, but realized the museum’s model needed to feature rotating exhibits and events that reflect what makes the Berkshires a destination for many.

“When people think of the Berkshires, this was particularly true 10 to 15 years ago, people thought performance; music, dance, theater,” he said. “So we were quite conscious about wanting to have programming that spoke to that profile of the Berkshires and what people thought of. I thank goodness that we did. I often wake up and kind of shiver and think that had we opened MASS MoCA with the original idea we might have disappeared a long, long time ago.”

MASS MoCA’s ability to host large performances was boosted five years ago when it added Joe’s Field to its constantly expanding campus. With an 8,000 person capacity it has been able to offer recurring events like the Fresh Grass Festival and the Solid Sound Festival, which was started by the alternative rock band, Wilco, in 2010.

“That in turn changes everything,” Thompson said. “Then you’re filling hotel and motel rooms not just in our backyard, but all across Berkshire County and southern Vermont. It becomes a much bigger economic driver.” 

Drawing several thousands of people for a night or weekend to North Adams, a city of 13,000, benefits other sectors of the community, says Mayor Richard Alcombright.

“It does spill over,” Alcombright said. “If you look at a Wilco weekend that comes out of MASS MoCA, there’s a crowd that’s predominantly 25 to say 55, maybe a little older. These are folks that camp, hike, bike; they’re all over our mountains and our trails when they are here for that weekend.”

Lauri Klefos heads the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. With performances at other venues like Tanglewood drawing older audiences, she says the younger crowd that goes to MASS MoCA events is key to keeping Berkshire tourism strong.

“The exciting thing I think to the Berkshires is that these are usually first-time visitors,” Klefos said. “So our job is to make them have a wonderful experience. North Adams is certainly up to that task to get them to come back again and again.”

Tickets are still available for the Beck concert.

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