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Gov. Patrick Celebrates $25 Million Investment In MASS MoCA

Jim Levulis

In what will most likely be his last official visit to the Berkshires, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick took time Monday to celebrate state investments in the region.One celebratory moment in North Adams centered around a $25.4 million state grant will help fund MASS MoCA’s third expansion since the museum opened in the former Sprague Electric and Arnold Print Works buildings in 1999. Roughly 130,000 square feet within the museum’s 26 buildings, which date back to 1860, will undergo renovations while the 16-acre campus will see a system of bike paths and upgrades to its courtyards and concert areas. MASS MoCA also announced partnerships with artists such as James Turrell and Jenny Holzer as well as musician and visual artist Laurie Anderson to fill the renovated spaces. Patrick says he is counting on MASS MoCA to make the most of the investment.

“To make this investment the type that expands the audience to people who don’t yet see themselves as appreciating the value and impact of contemporary art and indeed the importance of art in their own lives,” Patrick said. “That will be a great civic contribution well worth the investment.”

MoCA has privately raised nearly $13.5 million of its $30 million goal to cover the rest of the two-and-a-half-year project. While it doesn’t have a permanent collection, unlike most museums, the newly announced partnerships will stretch at least 15 years. Museum director Joseph Thompson says artist James Turrell has an idea to cut a hole in an abandoned water tank to create a celestial viewing area.

“Somehow the sky becomes a canvass and it vaults in the most unusual ways,” Thompson said. “Sometimes when you’re looking up it feels like the sky is pressing down, forming this kind of convex, the other times it vaults and arches upwards.”

Massachusetts helped fund MoCA’s launch and initial expansion with a $35 million grant. With that in mind, Thompson says MoCA is one of the weirdest museums in that it was born to promote arts in North Adams left out of the Berkshire cultural discussion while being an economic catalyst for a city struggling after the loss of manufacturing jobs.

“When we started this project, unemployment was 16, 17, 18 percent or seven times the state average,” Thompson explained. “Huge outmigration of younger and middle-aged people, so an aging population. Downtown occupancy was only 20 or 25 percent. Three-quarters of the store fronts were empty. It was rather desperate in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

MoCA’s annual attendance has grown from 40,000 in 1999 to an average of 120,000. Thompson expects the expansion could bring an additional 65,000 people each year, while also lengthening stays in the region. North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the museum has had a significant socioeconomic impact on the city of 13,000.

“For many of us not so many years ago we could not picture a city with MASS MoCA and isn’t it ironic now that we can’t picture a city without it,” said Alcombright.

Governor Patrick, a Democrat, did not seek a third term this November in an election that saw Republican Charlie Baker narrowly defeat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley. With a home in Richmond, Patrick says people deserve to be heard by state leaders no matter how far from Boston they live.

“The people of the commonwealth, every region of the commonwealth, deserve to have their governor and state government pay attention to them and invest equitable,” Patrick said. “To encourage good things and economic expansion in every corner of the commonwealth. That’s what I’ve tried to be about and I hope that the governor-elect and his team will be about that as well.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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