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Joe Thompson's calculations for a two-day visit to North Adams.

Mass MoCA's Festival Field Getting New Features

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Mass MoCA's Phase III will include amenities for Joe's Field, site of the popular Solid Sound and Freshgrass music festivals.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Joe's Field is getting some much needed amenities.

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is adding catering facilities and restrooms for the talent and visitors, including handicapped accessible areas.

They won't be ready for when Wilco and Solid Sound Festival return to the museum on June 27.

"We're going to have a festival just in the very beginning of a construction cycle," Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson told the City Council this week. With the festival settling into a biennial schedule, "our goal will be to have this done by the 2017."

Mass MoCA's nearly $60 million Phase III is largely focused on the development of the massive Building 6 with its nearly acre of gallery space per floor.

But the open field on the southwest side of the campus plays the role of gallery space for the museum's large musical performances.

The three-day Solid Sound Festival has grown to around 8,000 in attendance; Freshgrass isn't far behind at 5,400.

Thompson estimated the field can hold about 10,000 but capacity would be closer to 8,500 in terms of keeping it "a civil, pleasant experience."

It will still be something of a "Porta-Potty city," but conditions will be improved, including repairs to the bridge linking the field to the main courtyards.

"All kinds of amenities work to make the outside of the campus as comfortable as it is inside," he said.

Thompson appeared before the council on Tuesday to review the Phase III plans; he gave a similar rundown to Gov. Deval Patrick the week before.

Councilors, not surprisingly, were interested in the growth of the festivals, which tend to bring a large number of people into the city, and how the museum's expansion might benefit North Adams.

Thompson thought the museum could handle one more festival, in addition to the small Bang on a Can summer program, possibly in May before Tanglewood begins.

He also spoke of plans to connect the museum more strongly to the city's downtown, and continuing efforts to relate Mass MoCA's with the city's Vision 2030 plan.  

For example, the museum worked with the city in developing the MassWorks application for the proposed Phoenix Park. The city did not get the $6 million grant in this round but will try again.

The museum's $25.4 million grant from the state took four years of planning, Thompson said. "There was a lot work. That's why I go back to the Phoenix ... they take a long time to bring to fruition."

Thompson also envisions the Mohawk Bike Trail cutting through the campus, particularly through Building 6.

"I'm trying to figure out how to get the architects to do this," he said. The museum would also connect into a larger loop of hiking trails.

Getting Mass MoCA visitors downtown has been a long running goal.

"I think that this has a chance to be one of the bigger attractions," Thompson said.

Describing the museum as "a theme park for thinking adults," Thompson believes it can boost its 120,000 or so average annual attendance to 160,000 to 180,000 through the planned expanded programming.

Tying in with the Clark Art Institute, the city, the proposed Greylock Market, other cultural attractions and natural resources, he calculates that a day trip can be turned into an overnight stay.

"You can't do it in a day, I don't even think you can do it in two," Thompson said.  

The city has proven it can easily absorb thousands of people; finding rooms for them, however, may be difficult.

"It was hard to find a hotel room in all of Northern Berkshire County," he said. "On the weekend nights, there were a lot of nights that every single room in the hotels were booked."

As Phase III moves forward, Thompson was confident that the state money will be available despite recent talk of cuts. It will be matched by $30 million in private money.

"We feel quite secure that the money's there," he said. "The governor took steps to make sure the money's secure."

Tags: bike path,   mass moca,   music festival,   Solid Sound,   

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