North Adams, Massachusetts | A Weekend of Art
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.
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.
The museum also boasts the world’s largest collection of wall drawings by Sol LeWitt—100 in all.
Mass MoCA also does a great job of inviting children into art appreciation with rotating exhibits and activities in its Kidspace Art Bar.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For lunch, it’s well worth braving the lines to have a chili dog at Jack’s, an old-school lunch counter.
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.
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.