Robert Wolterstorff, Lisa Dorin, Olivier Meslay, Mandy Greenfield and Joseph Thompson gave overviews of the exhibitions and performances planned at their institutions.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — North County's premier art institutions are doubling down on efforts to keep visitors entranced and entertained — and staying longer.
The pillars of "ArtCountry" are partnering on multivenue passes designed to extend their reach and second-day options that offer tourists a chance to linger and contemplate the art.
"The thinking behind that is there's a lot to see," said Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams on Wednesday morning. "We would like people to slow down and enjoy these exhibitions and this offers a better way to do it."
Thompson was referring to the summer programming unveiled by Mass MoCA, the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williams College Museum of Art and the Bennington (Vt.) Museum at an event in the auditorium of the Clark's Manton Research Center.
The season of art and performance, which includes aspects of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival of Becket, offers a wide range of cultural attractions ranging from theater world premieres and cabarets, music festivals, insights into the iconic Vermont landscape and people, explorations of polar plunging and surveys of French wrought iron and the women painters of Paris, to a retrospective of the early days of dance in the Berkshires.
ArtCountry was launched last year by the four museums and theater festival as a branding mechanism for the region. The institutions in North Adams and Williamstown, and Bennington, Vt., are barely 30 minutes away from each other and accessible on Routes 2 and 7.
Museum officials said last year that the concept of cultural continuity between them lent itself well to marketing. The efforts, including a recent two-page spread in the New York Times, is also being underwritten by hospitality partners the Williams Inn, and the Porches and Tourists in North Adams.
"There's no place within three hours of New York City or three hours from Boston that has this sort of concentration of arts and culture ... there is no other place in this nation," Robert Wolterstorff, director of the Bennington Museum, said. "I would say ArtCountry is working."
The museum had a 30 percent surge in attendance two years ago with "Milton Avery's Vermont." While that was prior to ArtCountry's launch, "we sustained that growth attendance last year and I would attribute most of that to ArtCounty," Wolterstorff said. "I think it's working for all five institutions but more I think it's working for the visitors."
The $50 Summer Pass gives single-day admission to the Clark, MoCA and Bennington and 20 percent off on a Mainstage ticket and the gift shop at WCMA. The pass is available June 1 first at any of the participants and is good through Labor Day.
Several other multivenue passes are also available for lower amounts for admissions or discounts. Also this summer, the museums will honor second-day visits on single-day tickets.
"One thing is there's just a real, it's almost an embarrassment of programmatic depth in our region, and we want people to be able to use it," Thompson said. "We want people to do it at a pace that's more humane ... everybody is too busy today."
Instead of trying to see all of one museum, or worse three or four museums in a day, ArtCountry is offering incentives to pause for a couple days to take it all in.
"We know that converting a single day trip into an overnighter is about six times as much economic impact as a day trip itself," he said. "It's far more important to get people to spend more time here."
The museums "friends and neighbors" — the hotels and motels, restaurants and stores — all do better when a visitor decides to spend a night or two. Thompson said the economics of the region are increasingly being interwoven into the programming and events at the anchor institutions.
"Come to the Berkshires, take your time, spend the night," said Thompson.
Clark Art Institute
"One of the characteristics that defines ArtCountry is the breadth and diversity of the art experiences that are available here, and this summer, it feels as is the options are more exciting and more interesting than ever," said Olivier Meslay, Felda and Dena Hardymon director of the Clark.
The summer kicks off on June 9 with the opening of "Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900" and "The Art of Iron: Objects from the Musee Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy." The exploration of 19th-century France continues with "A City Transformed: Photographs of Paris, 1850-1900" in the Thaw Gallery.
Also presented will be workes of Los Angeles-based media and installation artist Jennifer Steinkamp that will interact with Stone Hill and collaborations with Jacob's Pilow, WTF's Fridays@3 readings and WAM Theatre's premiere of "Pipeline."
Williamstown Theatre Festival
"This summer, we look forward to creating a season of new productions that engage with the moment we are living," said WTF Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield. "More than ever, theater markers feel the urgency to create meaningful, transportive work that reminds us of the depth and possibility of humanity."
The Tony-award winning theater company will feature three world premiere plays and a world premiere musical. "The Closet" featuring Matthew Broderick, Brooks Ashmanskas and Jessica Hecht kicks of the season, followed by the premiere of "Lempicka," a musical with book and lyrics by Carson Kreitzer and music by Matt Gould.
The Nikos Stage will host "The Sound Inside" by Pulitzer finalist Adam Rapp and featuring Mary-Louise Parker; "Artney Jackson" by James Anthony Tyler; "Seared" by Pulitzer nominee Theresa Rebeck; and finally "Dangerous Houses" by Jen Silverman with Alfie Fuller and Samira Willey.
In addition to the numerous musical performances this summer, including Blondie and Bang on a Can, the museum hosts "Taryn Simon: Assembled Audience & A Cold Hole" that will have an icy gallery where performers will plunge into water through a hole in the floor, all accompanied by recorded claps.
"The Lure of the Dark: Contemporary Painters Conjure the Night" remains on view along with a number of temporary and permanent exhibits.
Williams College Museum of Art
"Our extraordinary line-up at WCMA this summer will be equal parts celebratory and challenging, intimate and expansive, brainy and fun," said Lisa Dorin, interim director. "Culture and nature-filled ArtCountry is like nowhere else in the world Linger and enjoy, we look forward to welcoming you."
WCMA offers a look at the beginnings of Jacob's Pillow through photography in "Dance We Must: Treasures from Jacob's Pillow, 1906-1940"; "Sam Gilliam in Dialogue" features the artist's pigment on material in "conversation" with other works; "Rawr! A WCMA Bestiary" is gathered from museum's large collection of art and artifacts; Mesoamerican civilizations are represented in "The Seeds of Divinity"; WALLS (Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces) looks at how students reacted to being to bring art into their rooms; and "Ologies" lets visitors experience a whole host of studies.
"Crash to Creativity: The New Deal in Vermont" looks at the burst of innovation and creation during the Great Depression; "Thinking About Extinction and Other Droll Things: Recent Prints and Drawings by Edward Koren" features recent etchings and lithographs by the New Yorker cartoonist; and "Enthusiasms: Personal Paintings by Jessica Park" of Williamstown and "Magic and Mystery: Works by Gayleen Aiken and Duane Michals" of color photography and color drawings are on view now.
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