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The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, commonly referred to as MASS MoCA, is a museum located in North Adamsmarker, Massachusettsmarker, USAmarker. It is the largest center for contemporary visual art and performing arts in the country.

MASS MoCA opened with 19 galleries and of exhibition space in 1999. In addition to galleries and performing arts spaces. MASS MoCA also rents space to commercial tenants.

Along with a large variety of contemporary art displays, the museum also hosts film screenings and has seen performances by a variety of musical acts, including Joan Baez, Cat Power and Steve Earle. MASS MoCA is the home of the Bang on a Can Summer Institute, where composers and performers from around the world come to create and perform new music. The festival, started in 2001, includes concerts in galleries — usually twice a day — for three weeks during the summer.

Museum location & history

Arnold Print Works

The buildings that MASS MoCA now occupies were originally built between 1870-1900 by the company Arnold Print Works. These buildings, however, were not the first to occupy this site. Since colonial times small-scale industries had been located on this strategic peninsular location between the north and south branches of the Hoosic River. In 1860 the Arnold brothers arrived at this site and set up their company with the latest equipment for printing cloth. They began operating in 1862 and quickly took off. Aiding their success were large government contracts to supply cloth for the Union Army.

In December of 1871 a fire swept through Arnold Print Works factory buildings, destroying eight in total. Rebuilding started almost immediately and an expanded complex was finished in 1874. Despite a nationwide depression during the 1870s Arnold Print Works purchased additional land along the Hoosic river and constructed new buildings. By 1900 every building but one in today's Marshall Street complex was constructed.

At its peak in 1905 Arnold print works employed over 3000 workers and was one of the world's leading producers of printed textiles. Arnold produced 580,000 yards or 330 miles of cloth per week. Arnold had offices in New York City and Paris. In addition to printing the textiles, Arnold Print Works expanded and built their own cloth-weaving facilities in order to produce "grey cloth," which was the crude unfinished textile from which printed color cloth was made.

In 1942 Arnold Print Works was forced to close its doors and leave North Adams due to the low prices of cloth produced in the South and abroad, as well as the economic effects of the Great Depression.

Sprague Electric Company

These large factory buildings were not inactive for long. Sprague Electric Company, a local North Adams company, bought the Marshall Street complex to produce capacitors. During World War II Sprague operated around the clock and employed a large workforce of women. Sprague did not employ women just because of the lack of men, but because it took small hands and excellent manual dexterity to construct the small hand-rolled capacitors.

In addition to manufacturing electrical components, Sprague had a large research and development department. "From the 1940s, Sprague physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and skilled technicians worked with state-of-the-art equipment, investigating practical applications and conducting fundamental research on the nature of electricity and semiconducting materials." This department was responsible for research, design, and manufacturing of the trigger for the atomic bomb and components used in the launch systems for the Gemini moon missions.

At its peak during the 1960s Sprague employed 4,137 workers in a community of 18,000. Essentially the factory was a small city within a city with employees working alongside friends, neighbors and relatives. The company was almost completely self-sufficient holding a radio station, orchestra, vocational school, research library, day-care center, clinic, cooperative grocery store, sports teams, and even a gun club with a shooting range on the campus. The site was formerly listed as a superfund contaminated site. In the 1980s Sprage began to face difficulties with global changes in the electronics industry. Cheaper electronic components were being produced in Asia combined with changes in high-tech electronics forced Sprague to sell and shutdown its factory in 1985. As a result North Adams was left "deindustrialized" and found itself on a steep economic decline.


The development of MASS MoCA as a museum institution began just a year after Sprague vacated the factory buildings. In 1986 a group of staff from the nearby Williams College Museum of Art were looking for large factory or mill buildings where they could display and exhibit large works of modern and contemporary art that they weren't able to display in their more traditional museum/gallery setting. They found a large number of vacant factory buildings in North Adams and were directed to the Marshall Street complex by the Mayor of North Adams. It then took a number of years of fund raising and organization to develop MASS MoCA from an idea into a reality. During this process the project evolved to create not only new museum/gallery space to exhibit contemporary art work but also a performing arts venue allowing the museum to run a schedule of visual arts exhibitions as well as performing arts events.

The project was able to begin through funding provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The museum was granted $18.6 million after a public/private coalition petitioned the state government to support the project based on its cultural and historical significance and the museum's potential for economic revitalization. In 1999, MASS MoCA opened its doors.

Designed by the Cambridge architecture firm of Bruner Cott & Assoc, it was awarded highest honors by the American Institute of Architectsmarker and The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Sol LeWitt Project

On November 16, 2008, the museum opened a landmark exhibition of Sol LeWitt wall drawings in partnership with Yale University Art Gallerymarker and Williams College Museum of Art. The exhibition, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective occupies a building located at the center of the campus. Over 100 monumental wall drawings and paints created by the artist from 1968-2007 - in LeWitt's style, they were created by scores of "draftsmen" acting on his detailed instructions - will be on view through 2033. LeWitt designed the interior walls and placed the drawings before his death in April 2007. The Cambridge-based Bruner/Cott & Associates converted the historic mill building to gallery space. The drawings were installed by a team of draftsmen between April 1 and September 30, 2008. The exhibition was chosen as the "top museum exhibition of 2008" by Time Magazine.

Christoph Büchel's installation

In May 2007, the museum became embroiled in a legal dispute with Swiss installation artist Christoph Büchel. The museum had commissioned Mr. Büchel to create a massive new installation, "Training Ground for Democracy," The exhibit was to include a re-built movie theatre, nine shipping containers, a full size Cape Cod-style house, a mobile home, a bus, and a truck, before the artist abandoned the work after the museum balked at changes the artist made to the planned installation..

The museum, which had already invested significantly in the exhibit and had amassed literally tons of materials in its largest gallery, filed a lawsuit to determine its rights and those of artists were in relation to showing or removing the materials. Büchel claimed allowing the public to view it in an unfinished state would misrepresent his work and did not respond to requests by the museum to come and remove the materials. On September 21, 2007, Judge Michael Ponsor of the Federal District Court for Massachusetts, Springfieldmarker, ruled that there was no distortion inherent in showing an unfinished work as long as it was clearly labeled as such. Judge Ponsor said that his opinion would likely not be viewed as creating a legal precedent.

Though the museum was granted permission to open the gallery, it chose not to and the materials were discarded without ever being seen by the public.

Jenny Holzer Projections

On November 18, 2007, Jenny Holzer presented her first indoor projection in the United States at Mass MoCA. Previously, an indoor projection had been presented at the MAK, Vienna. Holzer's projection at Mass MoCA filled a large chamber first with selected poems by Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska, and later with selections from prose by Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek. Holzer placed expansive beanbags around the floor of the chamber, inviting the audience to sit, lie, and bathe in the light of the work. Holzer's installation immediately followed, and took place in the same space as, the Büchel installation.

The Knitting Machine

On June 30, 2005, MASS MoCA presented an American sculptural installation by Dave Cole. Cole was in residence at MASS MoCA with his project The Knitting Machine which comprised two excavators specially fitted with massive 20' knitting needles. The knitting project was expected to be completed by July 3. The product of The Knitting Machine is an oversized American flag - a flag which can be seen as both a celebratory gesture of pride and a commentary on America's role in world affairs.

When the flag was removed from The Knitting Machine it was folded into the traditional flag triangle and was on display in a presentation case which Cole described as "slightly smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle", accompanied by the 20' knitting needles, and a video of the knitting process. [6].


  1. Trainer, p. 9
  2. Trainer, p. 9
  3. Trainer, p. 10
  4. Trainer, p. 11
  5. Trainer, p.11
  6. Trainer, p. 12


Trainer, Jennifer ed. MASS MoCA: From Mill to Museum. North Adams:MASS MoCA Publications, 2000.

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