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North Adams, Massachusetts | A Weekend of Art

A woodcut poster by Emily Cohane-Mann, displayed at PRESS Gallery

A woodcut poster by Emily Cohane-Mann, displayed at PRESS Gallery

Early spring is a tricky time for traveling in New England. You can do some spring skiing or take in the maple harvest, both of which I love to do. But there’s a third option, which is to focus on indoor attractions, like museums, films, galleries, shops, and restaurants—a weather-proof weekend getaway. For this reason, we recently headed out to North Adams, Massachusetts to visit the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) and see what else was happening in town.

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Mass MoCA’s exterior, with banners from the current spring exhibitions.

Mass MOCA is the town’s primary draw and if you haven’t visited before, it really is a must-see destination. Opened in 1999, it resides in a 13-acre complex of former factory buildings and has some of the largest exhibition spaces in the country. Works that would never fit in conventional museums can be seen here and the effect can be breathtaking.

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Izhar Patkin’s 14-foot-tall Murano glass sculpture of the goddess Shiva, called, “Where Each is Both”

The museum also boasts the world’s largest collection of wall drawings by Sol LeWitt—100 in all.

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Mass MoCA also does a great job of inviting children into art appreciation with rotating exhibits and activities in its Kidspace Art Bar.

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North Adams has put the arts at the heart of its revitalization efforts and outside the museum walls, there’s more art to be found all around you.

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“That’s Gneiss” by Melissa Matsuki Lillie. The text next the painting reads, “This mural is inspired by microscopic and macroscopic views of geological formations found in the metamorphic rocks that make of many of the buildings of downtown North Adams.”

When I stopped to take a photo of Lillie’s mural, a local man walked over to tell me where all the other good public art sites can be found. It was clear he took a lot of pride in these murals.

Stenciled messages on the sidewalk help you find other public art installations.

Stenciled messages on the sidewalk help you find other public art installations.

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The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is located in town, and the school maintains two adjoining gallery spaces: MCLA Gallery 51 and PRESS. The former features work from a range of contemporary artists from around the world; the latter is a gallery/studio that celebrates letterpress as an art medium.

The window display at PRESS Gallery

The window display at PRESS Gallery

Gallery 51

Gallery 51

To see the work of exclusively local artists, head over to the North Adams Artists’ Co-Op (NAACO) Gallery, which includes works in all media.

Other shuttered factory buildings around town have also been turned into gallery space.  The Eclipse Mill, a four-story former textile mill on Route 2, houses live-work condominiums visual artists, musicians, writers, potters, and the like. There’s also a used/antiquarian bookshop, G.J. Askins, which is a lovely place to browse, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes to get lost in the stacks. Owner G. J. Askins seems to have his entire inventory memorized and can help you navigate.

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Stop for some sweets and a coffee at Brewhaha, a cozy cafe with seriously tasty food. I like to start my day with one of their breakfast sandwiches or a muffin. The lattes are great, too.

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The counter at Brewhaha cafe

If you’re looking for more substantial fare, head over to PUBLIC Eat + Drink, where the sophisticated menu runs from small bites to flatbreads to mussels with tomato butter and kale.

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For lunch, it’s well worth braving the lines to have a chili dog at Jack’s, an old-school lunch counter.

Prices at Jack's haven't changed much over the decades.

Prices at Jack’s haven’t changed much over the decades.

For all these gems, the story of North Adams’s evolution from abandoned mill town to art hotspot hasn’t been a linear one. It’s difficult to rebuild a small city with tourism dollars and cultural grants alone. On the weekend we visited, the city was in a moment of crisis, having just lost its regional hospital due to rapidly deteriorating finances.

Residents are rallying to save North Adams Regional Hospital.

Residents are rallying to save North Adams Regional Hospital.

Community leaders are working to reopen an emergency room in the area; meanwhile about a quarter of the employees at NARH have been hired at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, about 35 minutes away. It’s an ongoing effort.

Meanwhile, the culture keeps coming, with new exhibits and live events (including a Beck concert this June) at Mass MoCA, plus the return of the farmer’s market and outdoor concerts at  Windsor Lake. And as the weather warms, there’s nothing quite like a hike up Mount Greylock, the highest peak in the state. For its attractions and its aspirations, this brave, innovative town is worth supporting.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Amy Traverso

Author:

Amy Traverso

Biography:

Senior lifestyle editor Amy Traverso oversees Yankee's Food and Home & Garden departments and contributes articles to the magazine. Amy book, The Apple Lover's Cookbook (W.W. Norton), won an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award for the category American. Follow !
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3 Responses to North Adams, Massachusetts | A Weekend of Art

  1. Anne April 15, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Thank you for your article on my hometown. My heart is still there although I left 50 years ago to work and raise my family in the Boston area. Your comment “brave and innovative” says everything about what they have been and are currently experiencing.

  2. jana June 4, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    Thank you for visiting our town! We moved here from the Boston area about 12 years ago with our 2 kids and are so happy we did. Being able to live in a small town with such an enormous art presence, and surrounded by mountains to hike, lakes to kayak and rivers to wade (and extremely affordable houses) has changed our lives in a very wonderful way. The town definitely has its challenges- the hospital closing and fiscal problems are the latest, but we’ve made great friends here with other artists and the folks who’ve always lived here and i hope we never leave.

  3. Jonas A. McCaffery June 6, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for the great review of North Adams. I’m glad that you were able to make it to PRESS. It’s a fun place, and it’s really interesting seeing old school printing. That North Adams print should be the logo for the town. I feel like North Adams is only alive because of tourism. Mass MOCA is probably the greatest thing to happen to it after the factories and mill shut down, and it’s slowly getting it’s heartbeat back.There have been a lot of hiccups along the way, but the town is getting quite a bit more exposure lately, and I think that’s a sign for more good to come.

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