Clark Art Family Day (Eagle file)
Clark Art Family Day (Eagle file)

STERLING AND FRANCINE CLARK ART INSTITUTE

225 South St., Williamstown.

(413) 458-2303; clarkart.edu

Chartered in 1950 as a home for the extensive collection of Sterling and Francine Clark, the institute opened to the public in 1956 as a year-round museum for the exhibition of primarily American and European paintings, sculpture, prints and drawings. The museum is best known for its collection of French Impressionist paintings and as a center for the study of art.

Hours: July and August, daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; September through June, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Admission: $15, June 9-Oct. 31; free, November through May. Members, students with a valid ID, and children under 18 receive free year-round admission.

Amenities:

• Museum Shop

• Courtyard Coffee Cart, featuring sandwiches, salads, baked goods, hot and cold beverages

• Clark Cafe, full service dining with a special lunch menu. Open July and August

• Stone Hill Cafe, open seasonally for lunch at the Stone Hill Center

• Clark auditorium, 348-seat venue hosting live concerts, talks, The Met in HD and various other HD telecasts and simulcasts

Low or free admission highlights:

• Americana Family Day. June 30, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Free.

• Outdoor band concerts. Tuesdays in July, 6 p.m. Free.

• Trails and grounds. The Clark's trails and 140-acre campus are free and available to the public for hiking, snowshoeing, skiing, sledding and dog walking.

• Library pass program. The Clark provides passes valid for 2 adult admissions to all regional libraries free of charge.

• New Parents Gallery Talks. Selected Fridays in winter/spring. New parents often feel isolated and crave adult conversation but don't have easy access (due to the demands and logistics of newborns). New parents gallery talks provide a welcoming and warm environment for parents with crying babies, babies who need to be changed, who need to be fed, etc., to view art.

• Start with Art. Program for pre-schoolers.

DID YOU KNOW?

1. Sterling Clark was an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune (his grandfather had been Isaac Singer's business partner).

2. Francine Clary was born in 1876 in France. A former actress with the Comédie Française, she married Sterling Clark in 1919.

3. In 2005, the Clark celebrated its 50th anniversary with an exhibition that showcased the public's 50 favorite works in the collection. "Fumée d'Ambre Gris (Smoke of Ambergris)" by John Singer Sargent was voted No. 1.

Michael Conforti
Michael Conforti (Eagle file)

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute director Michael Conforti touts the fact that you don't have to be a lover of art to enjoy what the Clark has to offer, especially during the summer when you can picnic at an outdoor band concert; hike on the museum's various trails; walk up to the Clark's Stone Hill Center where, Conforti said, "you can have lunch or dinner. And if you walk all the way to the top of Stone Hill, you can see one of the best views of the Berkshires."

And, oh, yes, you can see some art, too.

Conforti is proudest of Family Day during which you can picnic on the grounds and see the art inside for free.

"It's a way to connect with a community we value but which may not know us," Conforti said.

Kate Staebler and her family
Kate Staebler and her family (Courtesy photo)

For many, Family Day "is a first engagement with the Clark," which, Conforti noted, is admission-free eight months of the year.

School field trips also are often a first engagement. From the numbers Conforti sees during the summer, those engagements clearly are not the last.

"We have 100,000 [people] come to us during the summer as a result of school field trips," Conforti said.

Kate Staebler's first contact with the Clark Art Institute came while working on a project about the Clark collection as a fine and performing arts major at MCLA in North Adams. It took parenthood, years later, to turn dutiful association to passionate engagement.

"I later found myself in Pittsfield at home with our newborn twins [Marlayna and Seth, now 5] and I saw a notice about the New Family Gallery Talks at the Clark," Staebler said. (See admission highlights box on this page.)

"I was a bit reluctant but I decided to go," the 35-year-old Staebler said by telephone from the Pittsfield home she shares with her now three children -- Cadence is 2 -- and her husband, Craig, who works at Berkshire Bank.

She was caught by museum director Michael Conforti's presentation, so much so she decided to take advantage of the Clark's Start with Art program for pre-schoolers.

Now, she says, going to the Clark is a full family affair.

"We particularly like the Clark Remix with its iPads and computers.
"I think it's great the Clark has these programs open to the community," Staebler said. "I hope to instill a love of art in my children. I want them to avoid the feeling I had as a student at MCLA."