Berkshire artist David Zaig's portraits are part of the first exhibit, titled 'Figuring In,' at the Rudd Art Museum in North Adams, which is giving DownStreet Art visitors a sneak peek tonight.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art opened to much fanfare 15 years ago.
Next week, the Clark Art Institute will reopen with celebrations galore.
But on June 26, at the first DownStreet Art of the season, the new Rudd Art Museum opened much more quietly. And that's OK with founder Eric Rudd and museum director Keith Shaw.
"We have a 100-year plan," Rudd said Wednesday. "We intend to be around for a long, long time."
Rudd, via his Barbara and Eric Rudd Foundation, purchased the former First United Methodist Church on the corner of Main and Church streets in 2012 and has been doing renovations since to turn it into an art museum. The 20,000-square-foot space will house permanent galleries of five decades of Rudd's own work as well as two galleries that will feature work of Berkshire County artists.
At the June 26 DownStreet Art kickoff, visitors were treated to a "sneak peek" at the first of those exhibits, "Figuring In," which focuses on how a dozen selected Berkshire artists perceive the human figure.
"The museum wants to present to the public the art of the Berkshires," Shaw said Wednesday during a tour of the space, where workers buzzed with activity, setting up artwork as well as painting and doing minor repairs to the former church, which closed in 2008. "[Rudd] understands this has to be a countywide endeavor. He wants to represent the entire county."
Shaw said he doesn't think the public knows how many talented artists live in the Berkshires, and the Rudd Art Museum — RAM, for short — aims to change that by offering museum-quality regional art in one place, a "clearinghouse," so to speak.
"[Visitors] will be shocked at what artistic talent calls the Berkshires home," Shaw said. "Instead of trying to hit all of the galleries in the county, just come here."
The new Rudd Arts Museum is located in the old First United Methodist Church in North Adams.
RAM will not sell art, Shaw said, but will provide information on contacting the artists. The museum does not plan to charge admission, instead relying on sponsors like the Massachusetts Cultural Council as well as a host of small local businesses and individuals.
"I've had a plan for more than 25 years to try to preserve my work," Rudd said. "I know that in doing something credible and successful, I needed to include others and to have constant relevant activity — i.e., an art museum — with changing shows and activities that could complete globally but with a shoestring budget.
"In North Adams, we can do for pennies what in other parts of the country would take thousands of dollars."
Rudd has gone this direction before, opening the nearby "Chapel for Humanity" in another downtown church. Its success led to the idea behind the Methodist church renovation into an art museum, which serves another important purpose, Shaw said.
"It's all about preserving what's good about New England," he said, pointing out original woodwork and pieces of arts-and-crafts furniture that had been left behind.
Visitors at the DownStreet Art kickoff were treated to a taste of the flavor of that; the remainder of the "Figuring In" exhibit will open July 11 after the Eagle Street Beach celebration — a brainchild of Rudd himself as well. The exhibits of Rudd's artwork will open in the coming weeks and months; two of his large pieces on the museum's lawn have already sparked discussion around town.
"We don't want to flood the senses of people with too much stuff," Shaw said. "[Rudd] put a lot of through and labor into this."