Update: Mass MoCA visionary Thomas Krens envisions new, massive art gallery for North Adams

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NORTH ADAMS — Thomas Krens, the man with the original concept for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art 30 years ago, has proposed building a new 160,000-square-foot art gallery on North Adams' Harriman-West Airport grounds.

The idea for the museum, which would be privately owned by a for-profit group of investors and cost an estimated $10 million to $15 million to build, was presented to the city's Airport Commission during a special meeting on Tuesday. It would be named the Global Contemporary Collection and Museum and contain a collection of about 400 works of art, according to Krens.

"The basic concept is to work with a group of, essentially investors, to put together a world-class collection of contemporary art," Krens said.

The Airport Commission unanimously voted to enter into lease negotiations with Krens, who said he should know by the fall how financially realistic the plan is and could begin construction on the facility by next year.

Because it is a public entity, the commission must also issue a request for proposals in accordance with Massachusetts law. It also must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The aesthetically industrial and modern museum would be adjacent to the Stop & Shop plaza on State Road and rest north of the airport's runway. The plans include 40,000 square feet for storage space and more than 100,000 square feet of spacious gallery space.

"What is so impressive that Tom chose North Adams, that Tom chose the airport, for this wonderful project," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

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The 68-year-old Krens said he'd been working on the concept for about five years. It was originally planned for China, he said, but "the idea of spending a little more time in the Berkshires was attractive to me."

Nestled between the Clark Art Institute, Williams College Museum of Art, and Mass MoCA on Route 2, "the cultural density of this place is almost there," Krens said.

"The region needs a couple of more cultural destinations and a marketing package to pull it all together," he added.

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Jeffrey Grandchamp, the attorney representing Krens, said the proposal is still in the "formative stages," but requested a green light from the Airport Commission.

The land on which the museum would be built includes the current Northern Berkshire Family Medicine building, which would be demolished.

Krens also addressed the potential perception of a conflict between his museum and Mass MoCA, pointing out that Mass MoCA does not have a collection and his museum would not have exhibition programming. The Global Contemporary Collection and Museum would be "positioned to complement the Clark, to complement Mass MoCA," not compete with them, according to Krens.

Trevor Gilman, vice chairman of the Airport Commission, said he was in favor of the proposal both as an advocate for the airport and as a resident of North Adams.

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"My only concern is that it stays a benefit to the airport, rather than the airport a benefit to the museum as it's presented, depending on the specifics," he said.

City Solicitor John DeRosa said Tuesday's vote was a good "launch point" for negotiations.

"The intent here was to be flexible but to be firm," he said.

The lease is to be negotiated for a term of up to 20 years, and Krens recognized his museum could cease operations there when it terminates.

"We're not looking to buy the land. We're not looking for a permanent commitment," Krens said.

Before a 20-year tenure as director of New York's Guggenheim Foundation beginning in 1988, Krens served as the director of the Williams College Museum of Art. A graduate of Williams College. Krens still owns a home in Williamstown that he purchased in 1972.


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