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The Clark, MASS MoCA, Norman Rockwell Museum Announce Reopening Plans

An aerial photo of a building complex set on a wooded hillside
Douglas Mason
The MASS MoCA campus in North Adams, Massachusetts.

Three Berkshire County museums plan to reopen next weekend.

The move comes after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker gave cultural institutions the go-ahead to resume operations as part of the state’s reopening plan Thursday.

MASS MoCA – the contemporary art museum in North Adams – will reopen on Saturday, July 11th. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown will follow the next day. All three have been closed since March due to the pandemic.

“We kept open for the entire COVID crisis our grounds open to everybody 24/7," said Olivier Meslay, the Hardymon Director of the Clark Art Institute. “Now what is really changing for us, is we are reopening the galleries, and we are opening two exhibitions. And these spaces are indoors. There is one big exhibition outdoor, which is called ‘Ground/work,’ and that will be always open even if the exhibition, I have to say, is not fully ready. But the most important thing is having a cap on the number of people inside the building.”

In addition to the limited admissions and social distancing, the museums will require all visitors to wear masks along with a host of other safety requirements.

“There’s contact tracing in Massachusetts, so when visitors purchase their tickets they will be asked to provide a phone number and way to contact them, and they’ll be responsible for contacting their party," said Norman Rockwell Museum Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt. "And in the event that there should be a known case of illness, then we’ll follow the governor’s guidelines on how businesses conduct themselves through that.”

MASS MoCA Director Joe Thompson is more worried about getting people in and out of the sprawling complex safely than the safety concerns inside.

“Because it’s a vast acreage of space, and using the state’s guidelines, there’s really no effective limit on the absolute number," he told WAMC. "The place is big enough to absorb literally thousands of people while still having 10 times the required social distancing space.”

The museum will hold its first public event July 18th, after a test run private event on the 11th.

“In a space that might comfortably hold 4,000, we might have 250 or 300 at a time with 6-foot by 6-foot pod boxes, each separated by wide 6-foot aisles,” said Thompson.

For the Norman Rockwell Museum, the reopening means furloughed workers are invited to return – though it has reduced its total number of employees by 20% due to the economic downturn. MASS MoCA carried out layoffs that saw 120 of 165 employees receive pink slips in March. Thompson says around 75% to 80% of them either have or will be returning to work in phases.

“We added the first sort of tranche of people came back under our PPP funding, which allowed us to carry on with art installation," said the director. "We’ve installed about 100,000 square feet of brand new art over the last month and half or so, and next week we’re bringing back another group of our colleagues, I’m happy to say, most of which are familiar faces. I think there’ll be another 30 or 34 people coming back on – largely our front of house staff.”

Unlike MASS MoCA and the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Clark didn’t have to lay off staff during the closure, but it still took a bite out of its revenues. Meslay says the real test is yet to come.

“Where the uncertainty is, is what will be our summer," he told WAMC. "And that will be – we will know more probably mid- not mid-July, but midsummer, that means around the first of August, we will have a better idea what will be the impact on the Clark.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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