Video and audio highlights of the presentation
By Bill Densmore
Former Massachusetts governors Michael S. Dukakis and William Weld joined former Guggenheim museum director and MASS MoCA originator Thomas Krens, on December 5, 2015, in describing plans for an “Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum” and a new “Global Contemporary Collection and Museum” near the Harriman & West Airport, both in North Adams, Mass.
To hear the audio of the key 27-minutes of the presentation, including remarks by Dukakis and Weld, as well as Krens’ description of both projects, with slides, go to Greylock News
Here are some excerpts from the presentation:
I am a rail fanatic. This proposal gives us a great opportunity. I look forward to following the progress.
It feels like old times. Back in 1991, John Barrett and others persuaded me that the idea of MASS MoCA was so counter-intuitive that it probably had a good possibility to work. It turned out to be a spectacular investment by the state. This current project that we’re here to talk about today, the railroad installation here and the Global Contemporary Art Museum by the airport—really are attention-getters and a complement to MASS MoCA and the Clark. These are projects that are going to be financed—there’s no doubt about that. The railroad museum in Hamburg, Germany, similar to the plans for the one here, has had a million visitors a year, which is triple the Clark and five times MASS MoCA, and we think we can do as well as Hamburg, even better. I personally think this is broader than North Adams and North County. It’s another step in our realizing that the arts and culture in western Massachusetts are arguably superior to those east of Route 495. We’re on the march.
I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about it at the beginning. I had been in New York for 25 years but still came back to Williamstown from time to time since I still have a home here. Gradually the idea dawned on me, as I saw that what was happening at MASS MoCA, like the Sol DeWitt installation, in collaboration with the university and the state, was one of the heroic moments at MASS MoCA that indicated it would be here for a while. You could see that the ship was rising. I was thinking primarily, as the most important project for me, of the project at the airport. When I was talking to John DeRosa and Mayor Alcombright about this project, they heard these noises in my basement, and I had to explain, “I’m building prototypes for a museum in China, of an extreme model railroad (‘Extreme’ means rigorous and precise in every detail, including the setting).” So after that, Heritage Park became the focus. When spring came, I rode my bicycle around Heritage Park and the Hoosac Tunnel, and saw that there might be something here to develop. Heritage Park was originally a project of Governor Dukakis and these buildings were quite extraordinary.
So, my thinking developed about North Adams. It’s the smallest city in Massachusetts but now it’s hard to imagine North Adams without MASS MoCA. But MASS MoCA has not been a silver bullet. It has hit its original target but it’s not enough, and there is no spill over effect to other parts of the city. There are reasons for this. People come from all over to MASS MoCA, but they’re not staying. The economy and population of North Adams continues to contract. So something has to be done to enhance the city. That’s the reality. The potential is that MASS MoCA has become, officially, the largest museum of contemporary art in the country. It has an annual attendance of 180,000 people, including concerts. The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, with its recent major expansion, has an annual attendance of 325,000. Williams College has announced plans for a new College Museum of Art, construction to begin in 2017.
To identify the valley as a cultural corridor, North Adams needs more world class attractions:
Global Contemporary Art Museum at the Harriman & West airport. Most established museums in large cities, and many private collectors, simply do not have the space to systematically or sustainably exhibit the explosion of creativity that has taken place in the visual arts. So we’re talking about a new exhibition space that would exhibit the whole echelon of contemporary art that fits perfectly between what MASS MoCA is doing and what the Clark is doing. The main idea is that we’d be taking works that you usually see only once, and aggregate it into works by an artist. This could be the perfect location for it because an urban setting would be too expensive.
Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum at Heritage State Park
This would be an extra long building, longer than two football fields. It’s not a model-train-in-the-basement concept. . . .I’m famous for doing the art and motorcycle show at the Guggenheim Museum, where the idea was to relate popular culture to a museum context, presented with sophistication and elegance. This concept also deals with cost efficiency. The idea is to put up this train museum as one of several galleries that could operate for a limited amount of time, say, 10 years. Then I began to imagine it would be more like a theme park, a very sophisticated theme park, for people ages four to 104, a Disney Imagineering project. The goal would be to enhance the profile and brand of the North Adams/Williamstown Cultural Corridor, to establish a professional standard by becoming the best of its type in the world, to generate a new audience that complements the MASS MoCA/Clark/Williamstown Museum of Art axis, and to generate investment to stimulate the economy here.