Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Modern Art Save a City? North Adams Hopes So

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Can Modern Art Save a City? North Adams Hopes So

Article excerpt

HOPES are rising for the future of contemporary art in Massachusetts - and for the economy of one of the state's poorest towns.

After months of tug-of-war between arts supporters and a debt-ridden state government, the administration of Gov. William F. Weld has released $688,000 to further the development of a museum of contemporary art - dubbed MASS MoCA - in North Adams, Mass.

The mega-museum, a $72 million public-private venture, will be the largest museum of contemporary art in the world, supporters say, and an economic lifesaver to the city and to Berkshire County, which have been severely hit by the state's deep recession.

"I'm convinced this is an economic development project and that the spin-off businesses will help stimulate and build the local economy," says Robert Collins, president of Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan, & Collins insurance company in North Adams.

The proposed museum would occupy the massive factory complex abandoned by Sprague Electric Co. in 1984 and provide 250,000 square feet of gallery space for large-scale contemporary art.

In 1988, the legislature enacted a $35 million bond issue to support the project, and former Democratic Gov. Michael S. Dukakis spent about $2 million on the museum before leaving office. But state support came to a halt with last year's election of Republican Governor Weld, who initially faced a $50 million deficit.

"The problem was that the state was bearing the financial burden," says Wing Pepper, chief of staff of the executive office of economic affairs in the Weld administration. "The state was on the hook for another $33 million."

A successful museum fundraising drive, however, was "instrumental" in triggering renewed government interest in the project, says Joseph Thompson, director of MASS MoCA. The MASS MoCA Commission, the governing body of the museum, raised more than $1. …

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