The Clark and Mass MoCA Stiff Locals

Negligible Off Season Free Admissions

By: - Dec 18, 2014



This summer the Clark Art Institute reopened following a $145 million expansion and renovation designed by the award winning architect Tadao Ando. With combined $50 million in  state and private funding Mass MoCA is launching Phase Three of its campus buildout. The museum was established with seed money from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

It has been widely touted that the expansion of these world class cultural institutions, through expanded tourism, will have an impact on the hard pressed economy of Northern Berkshire County one of the poorest regions of the state.

Although the economic impact has been incremental it is hard to image North Adams without Mass MoCA and the expanding Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Overall, the expansion of these non profits as well as the nearby Williams College bring additional money into the community. They also create a demand for improved infrastructure and services. Since they don’t pay taxes these cost increases are passed along as a part of an every increasing tax burden.

Under Mayor Dick Alcombright taxes have risen sharply while jobs and business based revenues have not. He inherited a crippled city with taxes kept artificially low during the 20 plus years of Mayor John Barrett. Problems were swept under the rug and may no longer be ignored. 

One may argue that a rising tide raises all ships. In the short term benefits to the local community remains a hard sell. There continues to be a depressed downtown and competition for upscale tenants because of commercial, tax paying, rentals on the MoCA campus.

An ongoing issue remains how to get visitors to the Clark and MoCA out of their parking lots and into the downtown business districts.

We have long advocated creating a North Adams Arts Commission with a mandate to encourage the world class site specific projects of MoCA creating a bread crumb trail into downtown. Imagine, for example, the upside down trees at MoCA’s entrance sited along the center strip of downtown North Adams. Add to that other imaginative works dotting the city. One such project already exists in a well designed and functional shelter next to a bus stop. We need a lot more such initiatives to transform all of North Adams into an expanded MoCA campus.

There is a lot that the Clark and MoCA can do.

It was a good idea but the wrong location when MoCA opened a small retail outlet on Spring Street in Williamstown. That would have far more impact and a real show of commitment had it been located in downtown North Adams. It would have built on the presence of Gallery 51 which is a matrix supported by MCLA. Former administrator Jonathan Secor convinced realtors to transform empty stores into popup summer galleries as a part of Downstreet. He was also an impetus behind a number of murals of wildly uneven quality. It was a good idea with no aesthetic oversight.

In branding North Adams as an arts destination there is a need for sophisticated professional planning. It can’t be done willy nilly as has been the case so far.

Considering the ongoing Town vs Gown issues of upscale Williamstown and blue collar North Adams the non profits are on the short end of marketing and PR strategies.

The original renderings for Ando's Clark showed the dramatic, large reflecting pools open for public skating during the winter. It was a potential magnet for families combined with free admission during the off season.

The Clark’s auditorium remains closed so there is no winter programming. With no explanation there will be no skating. Bummer. Now, good grief, the Clark is announcing that as of January 1 it will charge $20 for adult admission as well as another $10 to view the special exhibitions.

That means that a working class family from the community will have to shell out some $60 for a couple to visit the Clark. With, by the way, free parking. Admission will continue to be free for members, children under 18 and students with a valid ID. The Clark is also promoting free first Sundays from October through May as well as free days on January 18 and February 15.

Mark your calendars.

While a raw deal compared to its past generosity it is still far more than what Mass MoCA offers. It has an Annual free day. What?

That sends the wrong message to the local community.

Particularly during the slow off season when museums could use more heat generating warm bodies in their galleries.

The additional revenue of charging its neighbors during the off season is surely negligible.

Too often when we ask locals, non artists, if they have visited Mass MoCA the answer is never, once or twice, or our kids have as part of school groups.

What would it take for the Clark and MoCA to award off season passes to neighbors with a valid ID?

Add to that real incentives, parties and promotions, to Encourage the local community and families to take advantage of these world class cultural resources. It’s nice to bring in the kids, which they do well, but you need to educate families including the parents as well as their children.

Part of the grass roots opposition and resentment toward the museums is based on a lack of exposure and understanding. You can’t relate if you haven’t visited. Making a visit cost prohibitive sustains the perception of resentment and privilege.

Getting more people involved goes a long way toward patience in reaching a true economic impact on jobs and real estate values that may take another generation.

Steps in the right direction may prove to be relatively cheap and amazingly cost effective. What price can you put on starting by being a good and welcoming neighbor?