Ramona Fabregas explains her idea for a dense prayer flag installation.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art will light up the city's famed steeples and turn the entire north side of the museum into an outdoor arts canvas.
The use of sound, light and text are designed to tie the city into the museum's summer season, part of an ongoing initiative to get visitors to wander beyond the massive arts complex.
The Public Arts Commission on Wednesday approved elements of two of the installations that will be partially placed on municipal property.
The first, a short-term installation by Jenny Holzer, includes five projectors projecting large-scale text selected by Holzer along the north side of the museum parallel to River Street, from Sunshine Pool to the end of Building 6. The exterior work public work will kick off the opening of the Building 6 over Memorial Day weekend — adding some 120,000 square feet of gallery space — through the Solid Sound Festival in June.
Holzer was first featured at Mass MoCA in 2007 with her first indoor projection in the United States. She's best known for doing large, exterior projections, signs and illuminated displays.
Mass MoCA Executive Director Joseph Thompson told the board, at its meeting in the Eclipse Gallery, that he did not know what the Holzer's topic would be but that it should be PG-rated.
"She's best known for a series of works called truisms, in some ways short poems," he said. "Lately she's been turning her attention to poems. ... She's also expressed interest in Syrian refugee kids so I wouldn't be suprised if some of the text chosen is by poets who are influenced by children refugees."
Holzer's exhibit will also include 22 carved stone benches scattered around the Mass MoCa camps along with some of her early posters. Holzer is one of the featured artists who will have rotating exhibitions in the newly renovated Building 6 as well.
The museum was asking permission to install three 10-by-8 foot projector boxes that will be on the greenway along River Street. Two other projectors will be set on Mass MoCA Foundation land on the other side of River. Deputy Director Larry Smallwood said the projectors would sit on the grass and not need any posts or pads. They also will be manned by staff while in operation.
The exterior work will run Wednesday through Sunday from dusk to 11 p.m. beginning with the opening celebration May 27 through the final day of Solid Sound Festival on June 23-25. If the weekend crowds are larger, the display could run to midnight. Smallwood said the Porches Inn, which faces the wall, is aware of the projections and that a test drive will occur on May 26.
The second exhibit will have the four existing steeples and Mass MoCA's Clocktower Building "talking" to each other in the words of Henry David Thoreau.
Luftwerk's "Cloudland" involved LED lights placed on the tower and the steeples of Notre Dame, First Congregational, First Baptist and All Saints churches. The lights are in echo of the relighted memorial tower atop the mountain and will blink out Thoreau's description of his awakening on the mountain in — Morse code.
"The most powerful thing is a pure white light," Thompson said. "Sometimes one reads a line and sometimes they read together so it looks like they're talking to each other."
Luftwerk is known for its massive light and color displays, including creating a "Luminous Field" at Chicago's Millennium Park, a light show to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Waters, and most recently, using those elements on bridges along new The 606 bike trail in Chicago.
"It should be a really beautiful installation," Smallwood said.
A test on the clocktower building will be done on Tuesday, May 15; the museum will have the steeples inspected prior to and after the lighting displays.
Smallwood anticipates the light installation running from Memorial Day to Labor Day, or possibly through fall foliage "if everyone loves it."
The text will come from Thoreau's "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," published in 1867. One of his digressions on that trip was a solitary hike to the top of the state's highest summit and a passage of his time in "cloudland" is carved into stone on the summit.
The commission was asked to approve the use of Notre Dame on East Main Street that the city owns.
"Churches mean a whole lot to the people who live in this city so seeing it as a beacon is more powerful for me," Commissioner Julia Dixon said. "It could instill even more pride in them."
Commissioner Nancy Ziter noted that the church property is for sale and should a buyer appear, there would be a need to ensure the lighting stays in place. She and the other commissioners also cautioned that installation and removal should be done with nearby Colegrove Park Elementary School in mind so it doesn't affect traffic or children walking home.
The commissioners also saw opportunity for the school's summer programming to use the installation for studies on art, Morse code, local and natural history, and literature.
Smallwood also updated the commission on the North Adams Exchange events being planned as another way to get museum patrons downtown.
Fencing below the Memorial Bridge will be removed and a path created to entice visitors to the parking lot of the Leu building (former Mohawk Center) where several colorful tents will be set up for the city to schedule pop-up eateries and retail during the summer to create "a little hubbub of activity there at the corner of Marshall and Main," Thompson said.
"The idea is to increase foot traffic," he said, with the expectation the museum will see a rise in attendance with the opening of Building 6. "We really hope that we can attract a higher percentage of those people to explore North Adams."
In other business, artist Ramona Fabregas approached the commission with the idea of doing a dense prayer flag display. She would gather 100 percent cotton muslin and invite people to write their hopes and dreams on them.
"What I like about people living here participating in this is it would be a very tangible, literal interpretation of their hopes and dreams," she said.
Fabregas offered several location where the display could go, including the footbridge at Phelps Avenue and Route 2 or across the Hoosic River along Mass MoCA's overflow parking lot.
The commission was interested in her idea and offered some suggestions, asking her to come back with a specific location and plan.
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