WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — This July Fourth was a great day to soak up some culture and get soaked by Mother Nature.
Williamstowners did both on Friday as thousands poured into the renovated and expanded Clark Art Institute.
The day kicked off with a reading of the Declaration of Independence at the Williams College Museum of Art and ended with an Eagles Band concert and fireworks show on the Clark's campus.
In between, hundreds braved the rain to march in or watch the town's parade, enjoy a cookout on the Clark's lawn and watch the official ribbon cutting outside the new Clark Center, the visitors center and exhibition space designed by Tadao Ando.
Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, joined Clark Director Michael Conforti and Peter Willmott, the chairman of the Clark's board of directors, in wielding the scissors in front of a crowd anxious to get out of the downpour and check out the Degas.
Downing drew a laugh when he rejected the offer of an umbrella before making some brief remarks that focused on the community spirit that helped make the Clark's reimagining a reality.
"Hopefully, when people come through these doors, and they have they experiences they have in this wonderful place — this gem, not just for the Berkshires, not just for Massachusetts but for the United States and the entire world — that when people come here to visit, they talk about the hearty souls who lined up like this is Woodstock," Downing said. "Who lined up to see what was built here, who lined up to see what we created as a community here, what we are going to support as a community here.
"So I am here more than anything else — not just to celebrate the opening of a building, but to say thank you to all of you. This would not be possible without your support, not only for the Clark but for myself and Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, for our entire delegation as we advocate to support projects like this."
The vast majority of the Clark's expansion and renovation was paid for through a private capital campaign that to date has generated more than $145 million. But the museum did recently receive a $250,000 grant from MassDevelopment and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Berkshire legislative delegation has been a constant advocate for the "creative economy" and state funds that help support institutions like the Clark.
Conforti's remarks echoed Downing's sentiments about the Clark's connection to the town.
"There are many art museums — few of them as well known both for a private collection and a private collection that has a dual mission of research and academic training ... — of the very few, three or four organizations like ours that operate like this around this country and abroad, none has the relationship to the community that we do," he said.
"This is an organization that reaches out to the community in a variety of ways, and it's clear, given all the people here in the rain that you understand that. I'm very proud of that. It's been an important focus of my directorship, and I want to thank you all for being part of that and that tradition will continue — not only in the summertime, not only in the fall and not only in the spring but in the winter when we start to skate on the water."
Of course, on Friday, not all the water was confined to the tiered reflecting pool that is now the focus of the Clark's campus.
A steady and at times heavy rain forced WCMA and its partners at the Williamstown Theatre Festival to move the reading of the nation's founding documents inside.
A couple of hundred spectators crammed into the museum's rotunda to hear actress Anna Chlumsky read the Declaration of Independence, actor Nathan Corddry deliver the British response and Williams College's Robert Volz deliver his own response to the New York Times.
Volz was on hand to introduce the artists and join WCMA Director Tina Olsen in welcoming the crowd. Volz is the custodian of the college's Chapin Library, which is home to the college's prized first-printing of the Declaration, which has been on loan to WCMA during the library's renovation.
On Friday, the Times published a front-page story about a historian's research into a possible error in the original transcription of Thomas Jefferson's words.
"I say to the New York Times, the answer is in that room," Volz said, pointing to the gallery off the rotunda where the the July 4, 1777, printing of the Declaration shares space with a copy of the Constitution once owned by Founding Father George Mason.
Chlumsky gave a restrained reading, allowing Jefferson's stirring prose to stand on its own. Corddry took advantage of the chance to play to the crowd — adopting the right mix of smugness and condescension as he delivered the words of both King George III and General William Howe. Chlumsky then followed with a reading of the Preamble to the Constitution, of which Williams also owns one of 14 known surviving copies from the Constitutional Convention's Committee of Style.
Volz shared some lesser known but locally significant prose, the text of a recently discovered unanimous June 24, 1776, resolution of Williamstown residents.
"At a legal Town-meeting of this town, held on this day, for the following purposes, the following motion was made and put to vote, viz: Whether, should the honourable Congress, for the safety of the Colonies, declare them independent of Great Britain, the inhabitants of this town will solemnly engage with their lives and fortunes to support them in the measure?"