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Williams College to build new art museum where Williams Inn once stood

A brick building with Williams College Museum of Art banners and signs
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
Lawrence Hall currently houses the Williams College Museum of Art on the Williamstown, Massachusetts college campus.

Williams College plans to build a new art museum in the heart of Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Since 1926, the Williams College Museum of Art has been housed in Lawrence Hall – a stately brick building on a campus hilltop originally constructed as a library in 1846.

“Interestingly, there have been many additions to the spaces that have been used as a museum over the years, the most recent from the 1980s: the Charles Moore addition. So it's not really recent, it's quite a while ago now. And the program of the museum and the collection have both grown dramatically since then," said Museum Director Pamela Franks. “A couple years ago, there was a decision that if there were to be a new Williams College Museum of Art building, it would be on the site of the former Williams Inn.”

A leafless tree hangs over a field of overgrown yellowing weeds
Josh Landes
/
WAMC
The former site of the Williams Inn.

Until its demolition last year, the Williams Inn was on the northern edge of a rotary where Route Two and Route Seven intersect around a park with a replica of a 1753 colonial home. Since then, the lot adjacent to town hall has sat empty, overgrown with brush.

“So the new news is that we've been studying this possibility for the last couple of years," said Franks. "And now, we're moving forward to the design phase. So it's super exciting that we may have a new college museum on that site at the corner of Seven and Two.”

With the plans in place, Franks says the real work begins as the college polls stakeholders about how to best design an art museum that will meet community needs.

“We’re very lucky, at Williams, and in this region, to have the museum's collection, which is global in scope," she told WAMC. "And it's also pretty remarkable, and how it spans history from antiquity up to the present moment. So it's a very broad base collection, and we have nearly 15,000 works. So we want to be able to show more of it. So a lot of this project is about that. So thinking about what a new museum building will offer as we move forward, we want to think about how a building can be designed to show art in the most effective way. So that it looks its best. But we're also really thinking programmatically about how the spaces are suitable for classes for student engagement, for informal connections, so that students can decide what they want to do in the spaces. Similarly, we wanted to be very welcoming to the public, and to all of our audiences. We want the museum to be a real bridge between campus and the community, which it is programmatically, but I think it'll be even more so in a new space.”

While the design phase has just begun, Franks would like to see the new structure have a clear relationship with Williamstown’s natural setting.

“One thing that's really obvious, since the inn has come down, is that the landscape is so gorgeous, there are beautiful vistas in every direction, there's a really clear relationship to campus, there's a really clear relationship to town, there's really clear relationship to the landscape," said the director. "So whatever we build on that site will be a beautiful home for art and for the collection, and also a really fitting compliment to the specific location.”

As work gets underway on planning the next iteration of the museum, the proposed timeline aims to hit a milestone.

“I think this is a historic moment in another way too, because the Williams College Museum of Art is approaching its centennial in 2026, and we'll be celebrating that 100th anniversary for the full academic year of 2026-27," Franks told WAMC. "And so the timing of a new museum building really aligns nicely with that.”

Throughout the design and construction process, the museum’s doors will remain open at its home for the past century in Lawrence Hall.

In the original broadcast of this story, Franks was identified as a graduate of Williams College. She is not, and that has been corrected.

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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