Berkshire, Bennington Cultural Institutions Create 'Art Country'
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Joseph Thompson's been talking for years about creating a destination in North County that will keep tourists longer than a day.
The director of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is convinced that trading up day-trippers for overnights, weekends or longer will cause a seismic shift in not only the way Northern Berkshire is perceived but exponentially increase the cultural economic impact on the region.
On Wednesday morning, Thompson was joined by the directors of four other major cultural institutions in launching ArtCountry.org, a collaborative designed to go beyond a simple "cultural corridor" and to think regionally.
"Our goal is to make it increasingly difficult if not impossible to do all this in a day," he said after each director presented an upcoming season full of exhibits and performances.
Olivier Meslay of the Clark Art Institute; Mandy Greenfield of Williamstown Theatre Festival; Christina Olsen of the Williams College Museum of Art, and Robert Wolterstorff of the Bennington (Vt.) Museum joined Thompson in the "ship's prow" of the massive and soon to open Building 6 high above the Hoosic River.
Like the Clark's opening of its expansion three years ago, Mass MoCA's opening this May of its $65 million development of more than 105,000 square feet of gallery space is expected to draw record crowds. Plus, the Solid Sound Festival returns to the campus in June, bringing another 8,000 to 10,000 visitors.
"I think this moment was really a crucial year to really make something even bigger, or," Meslay said to some chuckles, "try to make something bigger."
The institutions already do a lot of discussions and loaning, he said, and the three other museums are "nourishing" the Clark.
"Opening this wing of Mass MoCA was putting on us under a lot of pressure to be at this level, and find that we were gathering on ArtCountry was perfect for what it did for us," Meslay said.
The five institutions are using the ArtCountry collaboration to advertise North Berkshire and the west corner of Southern Vermont as a singular destination of cultural attractions and natural resources.
"The Bennington Museum is only 30 minutes from here ... from the Clark Art Institute you just go up Route 7, it's 18 minutes from parking lot to parking lot," said Wolterstorff. "In other words, we really are part of one cultural community: Art Country."
It recently ran a full-page ad in the New York Times and developed a website with museum and theater information, directions, other happenings, and hotel sponsors the Porches Inn, the Williams Inn and Tourists, the new name for the Redwood Motel.
"We purposely listed in our ArtCountry ad a thousand miles of trails of hiking and biking because we think it's an essential part of what people enjoy when they come to this area," Thompson said. "Outdoor recreational opportunities, a chance to engage in this really beautiful environment."
Some 38 miles of trails surround Mount Greylock, and Mass MoCA is looking to be the linchpin of the bike trails between Williamstown and Adams. It's even created a tunnel, with an art installation, of course, that runs through Building 6. All that's missing is a bridge over the Hoosic River flood control chute that's awaiting approval by the Army Corps of Engineers and, well, the bike trails.
"We're linking two bike trails that don't yet exist, but they will. I'm sure they will," said the ever-optimistic Thompson.
The directors are hoping the "threads and objects," as Olsen put it, that run through this season's exhibitions will create a natural continuity for museumgoers, including Grandma Moses as a modernist and perspectives of Robert Rauschenberg and Helen Frankenthaler (both connected to Bennington College) in several forms. WTF will premiere four new works, a musical and its first production by a commissioned artist.
Beyond exhibitions, there will be pop-up performances, lectures, activity programs and special events.
Olsen said a lot of what was presented Wednesday is "what we're after with ArtCountry and that is a place in which you can experience world-class culture that doesn't take itself too seriously a lot of time ... fantastic local food and drink ...
"And all of it in a bucolic landscape of hiking, biking and eating."
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