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Cultural 'Pep Rally' Celebrates Collaboration Among Institutions

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
04:42PM / Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said the collaborative nature of North County's institutions benefits the venues and visitors alike.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The leaders of North County's cultural institutions aren't interested in standing alone.
 
The directors of the Williams College Museum of Art, the Clark Art Institute and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the producer of the Williamstown Theatre Festival held a joint media event Wednesday morning at the college's Faculty House to talk about how their respective institutions are more cooperative than competitive when it comes to building the region.
 
"If we're competing, we're competing against Santa Fe, the Hamptons," Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said. "As a region, we're trying to get people to come to the Berkshires, and then they pick and choose what they're going to try and do."
 
WTF's Stephen Kaus said visitors get that.
 
"When people come up, they don't say they're coming to the Williamstown Theatre Festival — the artists who come work for us — they say they're coming to Williamstown," Kaus said. "And it's not a mistake. They're not just shortening the term.
 
"They're coming up to live, experience and work in Williamstown and the Berkshires. I think that's important to say out loud because the theater festival brings a variety of caliber of artists: young, new technicians, young actors, celebrities. And they all come up here for one reason: to work at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and to spend a summer in the Berkshires. And they really do take advantage of all the different offerings that are in town.
 
"You'll see them on days off going over to the Clark and wandering the grounds. They don't know what's in store for them this summer, though."
 
What is in store for those artists and all the visitors to the region this summer is a renovated and expanded Clark Art Institute. Its highly anticipated grand opening on July 4 drove much of Wednesday's discussion.
 
"We're really excited about the coming season," Thompson said. "What's going on in the back yard of the Clark right now is extraordinary and will ring a bell all across the globe. That is going to give a really powerful center of gravity to things we're all doing here."
 
According to plans released on Wednesday, the Clark will open with a bang ... in fact, many of them.
 
The Clark's previously announced July 4 grand opening will be integrated with the town's traditional Independence Day celebration, Williamstown Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Civello said.
 
The day will open with a 10 a.m. reading of the Founding Documents by WTF artists on the lawn at WCMA. After the 11 a.m. July Fourth parade, the scene will shift from Spring Street to South Street, where the town's annual post-parade barbecue will move to the Clark's grounds in anticipation of a 1 p.m. ribbon cutting.
 
At 4 p.m., the Theatre Festival will offer a performance of "June Moon" on its Main Stage at the '62 Center.
At 7:30, there will be a band concert on the Clark's grounds followed by the aforementioned bangs: a grand fireworks display at the Clark.
 
And lest it be excluded from the July Fourth fun, Mass MoCA will kick off the holiday with a July 3 outdoor movie presentation at North Adams' Harriman and West Airport, Thompson was quick to point out.
 
Clark Art Director Michael Conforti, above, Williams College Museum of Art Director Christina Olsen and Williamstown Theatre Festival Producer Stephen Kaus.
Cultural collaboration takes many forms — from the behind-the-scenes academic partnerships between the three North County visual arts museums to the conscious efforts to schedule programs that allow patrons to hop between venues.
 
"This is a remarkable place, where you can have a remarkable meal of culture, I would say unequaled to anywhere," WCMA Director Christina Olsen said. "We all think about that a lot. We think about the broader experience we want people to come away from and extending that experience and really trying to orchestrate or craft a very wonderful meal for them: visual experiences, theatrical experiences, musical experiences.
 
"When we take that into the college art museum, we think about what we can uniquely do and be. And we are not big, and we are not big grand. We are small and personal. And we can offer up unexpected, tastes, if you will."
 
Each of the cultural leaders at Wednesday's event talked about wanting to make sure that those cultural tourists have as many options as possible to keep them coming back and staying longer.
 
"Remember, 10 and 15 years ago, the cultural landscape was quite a bit different," said Thompson, whose venue marks its 15th anniversary this year. "For one thing, the Clark was tooling along, and in a good year might get plus or minus 100,000 visitors or so. ... In our early years, we might get 80,000 or 90,000 visitors. WCMA, of course, had strong programs, and the theater festival was always a center of gravity.
 
"But over the last two decades or so, it's different. And it's going to be different still, I think. Now in a good year, the Clark will be seeing double what it was 20 years ago. ... Last year [Mass MoCA] pushed well over 150,000 visitors. The landscape and topography is changing, and this good.
 
"As Michael talks about his really fantastic plans, it's important to remember it's not just about growing a footprint. ... What it really allows is to do more programming, better programming, things that keep people here longer in our region. The duration of stay, the amount of things to do, all that matters a lot. It extends the footprint, not only of our own campuses but of the visit to the Berkshires as a whole. It keeps people overnight. It fills motel rooms. It puts people in restaurants for longer and longer periods of time."

Tags: Clark Art,   creative economy,   cultural economy,   mass moca,   museum,   WCMA,   WTF,   

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