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North Adams, MA

A cultural institution has brought stupendous growth to the surrounding community.

Massachusetts' Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is housed in a complex of buildings formerly used to manufacture textiles and produce electricity. In 1986 the Williams College Museum of Art began to consider using the abandoned large, open factory spaces in North Adams to exhibit large pieces of contemporary art.  Joe Thompson, the current director of MASS MoCA, led a campaign to lobby for funds to further develop the space.  The Massachusetts legislature, as well as the city of North Adams, foundations, and private donors all eventually contributed to MASS MoCA, and in 1999 the art space opened as the nation's largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts.

As MASS MoCA established itself, its impact on the neighborhood became evident: business grew and North Adams quickly became a tourist destination like other cultural institutions in Berkshire County.

Nuts and Bolts:

  • MASS MoCA operates out of a diversity of funds: the museum resceived a $22 million construction grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; $9.4 million in private funds for construction support; and $5.6 million in private contributions for programming and start-up. Programming and general operating costs will continue to be supported by admissions revenue and fund-raising initiatives.
  • Before beginning the project, architects conducted a feasibility study of converting the factory space to an art gallery.  Bruner/Cott was named project architect and in 1995, the firm completed master plan and final designs.
  • Spaces were divided to allow for 19 galleries, a black box theatre, a lab theater, an outdoor cinema, artist residency space, performance courtyards, workshop space, kid-friendly space, rehearsal space, as well as office and retail space for commercial tenants.
  • MASS MoCA employs students from the nearby Williams College as well as locals, often soliciting local businesses for materials, craftsmen, and technical assistance for installation, art, and building development.


  • Commercial leasing of space in MASS MoCA added 1.2 million dollars to the total 14 million operating budget.
  • The museum's presence ecourages outside businesses take residency in North Adams, encouraging further growth in the region.
  • A study measured that MASS MoCA created an economic impact up to 11 million dollars in the region, either from visitor's direct purchases to more indirect sources, such as the museum's purchases of raw materials or services from the neighborhood.
  • Between 1998 and 2001, employment increased in North Adams by 250 jobs.
  • During this period, restaurant and bar businesses, educational services, and hotel/motel business exploded, and property values increased as well.

Keys to Success:

  • Financial and political resources and support from all levels and types of institutions.
  • Linking the town with the series of other cultural institutions in the region
  • Being a small, enclosed community on the decline. North Adams could absorb the economic and community growth that Mass MoCA produced.
  • High energy and dedicated hard work; Mass MoCA was a project at least 13 years in the making
  • Research staff and support that could study impact of Mass MoCA on North Adams
  • Local activity and support to rebuild facility

For more information on this program:
Mass MoCA