Northern Berkshire Cultural Organizations Aim For Shared Success

Mar 20, 2014

Williams College Museum of Art
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

The cultural attractions of the northern Berkshires have laid out their plans for the upcoming summer.

At a joint press conference, the creative minds behind The Clark Art Institute, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Williams College Museum of Art and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or MASS MoCA, previewed what the summer has in store. Christina Olsen is the director of the Williams College art museum. She says events and exhibits at one attraction work hand-in-hand with shows at the other destinations.

“People are coming to the Berkshires to have a unique, gorgeous, flavor-filled weekend of activity,” Olsen said. “When we think that way it really helps us program in a way that’s very, very complimentary and very rich.”

Highly anticipated is the unveiling of The Clark’s new building and renovated 60-year-old spaces. Michael Conforti is the Institute’s director.

“People are going to be simply blown away by The Clark as they remembered and liked it, but The Clark as they are now going to experience it,” said Conforti.

Conforti says the gallery expansions and new water features and walking trails added to the 140-acre campus are so subtle that they can’t be seen by a passerby on the streets of Williamstown.

“It’s a beautiful college community and people like to imagine it like they experienced it decades ago, when they were in college or when tourists came through some time ago,” Conforti said. “They like thinking that all of the paintings at The Clark were exactly in the location that they imagined them to be.”

Conforti says this summer The Clark will use the expansion to dive into 20th century art like never before by offering abstractions. Ancient bronzes from Shanghai will also be on display as well as the return of impressionist art curated at The Clark that has drawn 2.6 million people globally in the past three years. Jennifer Civello is the executive director of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce. She says The Clark’s unveiling will be tied into this year’s Fourth of July parade.

“We often talk about tourists visit The Clark and other cultural institutions within Williamstown and the northern Berkshire region, but its home for a lot of people here,” Civello said. “A lot of our locals spend time in these cultural attractions as well so it’s really giving them the opportunity to have the first view.”

For Olsen and the Williams College Museum of Art just down the road, the summer is an exciting, but different time as students are off-campus.

“There’s a burgeoning, exploding interest in lifelong learning,” Olsen said. “People are coming to the Berkshires in their 50s and 60s, younger than that too, but that’s a lot of our audience. They’re coming because they’re really still interested in what’s going on and they want to learn. We don’t think of it that way, but that really is part of what they are doing in cultural tourism. We have a capacity to really leverage that because we have dozens and dozens of really smart faculty at our doorstep who are our resources.”

Olsen says this summer the museum will offer curator workshops providing a personalized experience for visitors viewing a meshing of 18th and 19th century quilts and furniture with Americana art. Steve Kaus is the producer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The group is going through a transition period as the summer’s programming was created by outgoing director Jenny Gersten while incoming director Mandy Greenfield looks to take the reins in September. Kaus says the season kicks off in early July with the play, June Moon, which follows a singer-songwriter from Schenectady trying to find his way in New York City’s Tin Pan Alley.

“He has this romantic, idealistic vision of what it’s going to be like to sell a musical in the big city and he gets there and its business,” Kaus explained. “Its six songwriters in one room. It’s really funny in that way, but it’s also a bit dark.”

MASS MoCA is marking its 15th year anniversary with a celebration Memorial Day weekend followed by a summer of large-scale exhibits and musical performances by Beck in June and the FreshGrass Festival of Bluegrass in September.