Headlining the birthday bash on May 25 will be Annie Lennox and The Pretenders will make an appearance on July 26 for a benefit concert. The museum will also host a public block party that day and a week free admission earlier May for Berkshire County residents.
Joseph Thompson, who's been director of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art since the beginning, reflected briefly on the museum's "huge institutional growth" over the past two decades.
It took more than a decade for the concept of a massive contemporary art museum in a defunct industrial mill to become reality. Mass MoCA opened in 1999 in 200,000 square feet of space, supported by state and private funding and a whole lot of hope that it would revive the city's declining fortunes. It took some years for that revival to happen but the museum is now a significant economic factor that pumps more than $20 million a year into the local economy.
The gallery space has more than doubled in size and Thompson says the first years of 60,000 to 70,000 visitors has grown to five or six times that. Mass MoCA has become more than a museum — it's a performance venue, a studio for experimental art and a partner in a host of cultural, community and economic initiatives. Plus, it hosts weddings.
So, said Thompson at Wednesday's summer preview, "We're throwing ourselves a big birthday party."
The party kicks off on Saturday, May 25, with a day of performances and activities. A public block party in the main courtyard will feature games (like a giant pong), activities and food from 5:30 to 8:30 and party band Tank and the Bangas perform beginning at 8:30 (tickets $20 in advance).
Lennox has already been in residence for several weeks and will be featured in "An Afternoon of Conversation & Song with Annie Lennox" at 4 p.m., a rare solo-acoustic performance to benefit the Annie Lennox Foundation and Mass MoCA's Fund for New Music.
"She will be in conversation with Joe and, if we're lucky, Joe will sing backup once you start sending us songs," joked Sue Killam, managing director of performing arts. "It's a very high profile event because it is a benefit for both her work and our work. And we're thrilled that she is doing this performance for us and help us celebrate 20 years."
The singer-songwriter's foundation supports global human rights issues with a focus on women and children, particularly in regards to HIV/AIDS and homelessness.
While the benefit is tickets only, Lennox will also be presenting "Now I Let You Go ... ," an installation reflecting on personal belongings that Lennox says "become more steeped and resonant with memory and nostalgia."
Sprawling over two galleries, the musician's piano will be perched on top of a groundswell that seeps from one gallery into another.
"Emerging from the earth and partially buried are objects from throughout her life that she's collected from dozens of pairs of her children's shoes increasing in size as they leave their way through the map to Eurythmics travel cases to her mother's sewing machine," said Alexandra Foradas, curator of visual art. The second space will be a surreal atmosphere with dozens of gold and platinum records and "the Eurythmics 'Sweet Dreams' will be playing half speed in the background."
"Now I Let You Go ..." is one of several exhibits holding opening receptions on May 25 along with "Cauleen Smith: We Already Have What We Need, Suffering from Realness" and "Joe Manning: Looking at North Adams."
The summerlong celebration continues the "every other summer" return of Wilco and the Solid Sound Festival on June 28–30.
"They also have a new partnership with Penguin, Random House books, where they're doing activities and conversations with authors. So that's being announced today," said Killam. "So check it out, and you will see as with any Solid Sound there's always activities galore. We use every inch of space on our campus, and they touch it everywhere with music and art."
The annual FreshGrass Festival of bluegrass and roots music takes place on Sept. 20-22 with more than 50 bands and Bang on Can's annual three-week residency will end this year not with one six-hour concert but more than 30 back-to-back concerts during a very "LOUD Weekend" on Aug. 2-4.
The surprise of the morning was the reveal that The Pretenders would be performing at Joe's Field on July 26 in the band's only North American concert in 2019. Killam queued up an old video that had some in the audience confused until Chrissie Hynde filled the screen.
"No way!" someone shouted as the crowd — mostly Mass MoCA staff — burst into applause.
The concert will benefit the Hans and Kate Morris Fund for New Music, which underwrites new work by emerging and established musicians. Tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. Hynde also will appear for a separate, ticketed event at the museum on July 27; stay tuned for details.
A host of other exhibitions and events are planned for the summer season including the free week of May 6-13 for Berkshire residents (bring proof of residency) and Communications Director Jodi Joseph announced that summer hours will be starting sooner — on June 15 — and lasting longer. The museum will be open every day, 10 to 6, with late hours some nights, through Oct. 14. The Chalet will be open through the summer with local food, local beer, and local bands.
In the galleries
"Now I Let You Go … " by musician, producer, and artist Annie Lennox features a collection of personal cherished "things" juxtaposed against the glittering prizes of her public persona. The exhibition is on view now, with an opening reception May 25.
"We Already Have What We Need" by artist Cauleen Smith's colorful, light-infused video installations conjures visions of utopia. Opens May 25, with a reception at 4.
"Still I Rise," on view at Kidspace beginning June 15, features nuanced representations of women of color in all stages of life from five artists. An opening reception June 15 from 3 to 5.
"Them and Us / Ellos y Nosotros," the artist known as ERRE's first solo exhibition on and the U.S./Mexico border. On view beginning Aug. 3.
"RnR v1.0" is the first in a series of exhibitions drawing from one of the most comprehensive private collections of rock 'n' roll photography. "Allovers" — an installation by musician/sound artist Ryan Olson and producer/sound engineer Seth Rosetter — converts the lobby and basement into a musical instrument. Both are on view beginning June 28.
Solid Sound Festival returns June 28–30, featuring Wilco, the band members' side projects, and a lineup curated by the band — including Courtney Barnett, Tortoise, The Feelies, Jonathan Richman, Cate Le Bon, John Hodgman's Comedy Cabaret, the return of Fishing, and more.
Bang on a Can reimagines its 18-year mid-summer museum takeover with LOUD Weekend on Aug. 2-4 with concerts including Sun Ra Arkestra, Ben Frost, Philip Glass' live score to "Dracula," Brian Eno's Discreet Music, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, and more.
FreshGrass Festival takes place on Sept. 20-22 with headliners Greensky Bluegrass, Calexico and Iron & Wine, Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples, and more.
Tank and the Bangas on May 25; The Pretenders on July 26; Maggie Rogers on July 30; Artist and musician Laurie Anderson presents "Lou Reed Drones" with Reed's longtime guitar tech Stewart Hurwood on Aug. 10; Flying Lotus on Aug. 31 with a video wall, 3-D glasses for all, and a head full of crazy music just waiting to come out.
Season at a glance, by date:
May 25 4pm An Afternoon of Conversation & Song With Annie Lennox Benefit Performance
May 25 5-8:30pm Block Party Food, Games, and Fun
May 25 5:30-7pm Opening Reception Opening reception
May 25 8:30pm Tank and the Bangas Concert + Dance Party
June 8 8pm Kate Wallich + The YC x Perfume Genius Work-in-progress: Dance + Music
June 15 3-5pm Still I Rise Kidspace opening reception
June 15 8pm Bombino Live Music
June 28-30 All weekend Solid Sound Festival Music + Arts Festival
July 6 8pm John Simon Live Music + Stories
July 13 7pm Matthew Barney Film + Artist Talk
July 20 8pm Caroline Rose Live Music
July 26 8pm The Pretenders Benefit Concert
July 27 8pm Adia Victoria Live Music
July 30 8pm Maggie Rogers Concert
July 24 7pm Bang on a Can Concert at the Lake Live Music
July 26 10pm Bang on a Can Latin Night Live music
Aug. 2-4 All weekend Bang on a Can: LOUD Weekend Music Festival
Aug. 10 8pm Laurie Anderson presents Lou Reed Drones with Stewart Hurwood Electro-bliss
Aug. 17 8pm Jupiter & Okwess Live Music
Aug. 23 8pm Roomful of Teeth Work-in-progress: Live Music
Aug. 24 8pm Cha Wa Live Music
Aug. 31 8 pm Flying Lotus Music Festival
Sept. 20-22 All weekend FreshGrass Festival Music Festival
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