Gov. Deval Patrick heralds final phase of Mass MoCA renovation

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NORTH ADAMS - Fifteen years after it first opened its doors, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has honed a clear vision for a final two-year, multimillion dollar renovation phase.

Museum officials were joined Monday by Gov. Deval Patrick, state representatives, and North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright to celebrate the third phase of development at the museum, and announce plans for long-term art installations, combined with revolving exhibitions, in what will be an additional 130,000 square feet of new space by 2016.

The massive renovation will couple $25.4 million in state funding, passed by the Legislature earlier this year, with an expected $30 million in private money. After about 20 years of development, only one "significant" building of the 16-acre, 24-building former industrial complex will be left untouched. The development also will include renovations to its outdoor concert facilities, which are aimed at improving the museum's already-popular and growing events.

"Art completes us... It's for all of us to humanize ourselves, to complete us, to round us out, to make us full citizens and full human beings," Patrick said. "And by the way, with 120,000 visitors [annually] already here to Mass MoCA, it's a pretty darn important economic engine as well."

Officials announced that to supplement the state funding, $13.5 million in private money has been raised in what Mass MoCA has dubbed the "Confluence Campaign," which aims to bring in a total of $30 million. The name, inspired by the museum's position at the confluence of the Hoosic River's two branches, represents the museum's efforts to partner artists with its resources.

"We believe this is going to be the most exciting collaboration of artists anywhere in the world," said Mass MoCA board Chairman Hans Morris

The funding will also allow the museum to establish a building maintenance reserve fund to preserve the massive infrastructure at the Mass MoCA complex, which was last inhabited by the long-gone Sprague Electric Co.

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"We need to maintain [the buildings] for the next 100 years, and that costs a lot of money," Morris said.

Though much attention was given to the breadth of renowned artists Mass MoCA will be bringing to North Adams, officials also acknowledged and embraced the economic importance of Mass MoCA to the region. Already through the first two phases of development, Mass MoCA saw its annual attendance numbers climb from about 40,000 to more than 160,000 in 2013.

Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said the museum's presence already has improved North Adams — its unemployment was roughly seven times the state average in 1990, but 1.5 times the state rate now — but acknowledged still-higher ambitions.

"We know it can be better," Thompson said. "It's not good enough. Not enough people who come to Mass MoCA go to downtown."

Mass MoCA hopes that its expansion, paired with a newly renovated Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, will provide enough entertainment for visitors to warrant an overnight stay and make it "impossible" to see the area in just a day.

"We know that if you can convert one person to a day-tripper to an overnight [stay], they'll spend, on average, 10 times as much in the place that they'll visit. So that's a game-changer," Thompson said.

The museum has taken a number of recent steps to better connect itself with the city's downtown and rest of North County. It applied for, but did not receive, a MassWorks grant with the city last month to develop the areas of West Main and Marshall Street between the complex and downtown. Mass MoCA also has supported a newly proposed bike path through North Adams — even offering to explore tunneling the trail through one of its buildings.

The bike path should be developed "soon — in bike path years," Thompson joked. But that focus on broad planning was lauded by Patrick. He spoke to the importance of making a long-term goals — such as the development at Mass MoCA — a priority, and said "quarter-by-quarter management" is one reason why he left the private sector to run for public office.

"The short-term focus, I think sometimes sacrificing the long-term interest of the enterprise, has crept into the way we govern in America — where we govern for the next election cycle or the next news cycle, and not the next generation."

Alcombright also reflected on how Mass MoCA has affected the city and region in the last 15 years, saying that it has now become a "destination."

"For many of us, not so many years ago we could not picture a city with Mass MoCA," Alcombright said. "And isn't it ironic now that we can't picture the city without it?"

Alcombright also thanked Patrick, whose term is set to expire at the end of the year, for securing at least $70 million in funding for various projects within the city over his eight years in office.

"I've brought very much, and our team has brought very much, a sense of governing the whole state," Patrick said, "and I don't just say that to pander to a part of the commonwealth that feels it hasn't been heard or seen in the past. It's because I think that's what we should all expect."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-663-3741, ext. 225


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