Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

150-year-old mill at the fork of the Hoosic River is now the largest contemporary art museum in the country, and one of the largest on the planet.

New exhibits open each season, bringing artists from across the U.S. and the world, and long-term installations span many years, from Sol LeWitt’s rainbow swirl of murals to Laurie Anderson’s sound studio. Performances and residencies create new music, dance and film year-round, with major festivals in the summer and fall.

And the buildings themselves are beautiful. The old factory has opened into wide halls full of light. Bridges join brick courtyards like a medieval stronghold. Paint rubbed into the brick shows the ghosts of vanished rooms. Old glass ripples in the windows.

The museum has a cosmopolitan grace with the open ridge lines of the mountains on all sides — the old factory clock tower, the silver Airstream crash-landed on the roof and the upside-down trees.

Sunlight bathes the massive form of a woman in Ledelle Moe's 'When' at Mass MoCA.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Art at Mass MoCA

A woman finds beauty and strength in herself, even in a world that can be threatening, in Cauleen Smith’s ‘We Already Have What We Need’ at Mass MoCA. Smith is an internationally acclaimed artist in film and fiber art and music, and like many of the museum’s artists this spring, she is affirming the voices of people who have felt unheard.

The colossal figures in Ledelle Moe’s ‘When’ catch the light like monuments to a new civilization. Mexican artist Erre looks at barriers and what they cost the people they divide. Argentine artist Ad Minoliti and Puerto Rican artist Gamaliel Rodríguez map richly colorful fantasies and futures. And a global group of artists in ‘Kissing through a Curtain’ plays with language and time and translation.

Young musicians hang out with Bang on a Can Mark Stewart and the fellows (with their very own created instruments).
Mass MoCA

Events at Mass MoCA

The museum holds concerts and events year round — comedy, film, theater and dance, advance looks at work in progress and in-depth conversations with artists in the exhibits and in residence.

Music festivals here have grown international followings — Wilco’s bi-annual Solid Sound celebration in June, Bang on a Can’s classical minimalist marathon in July and the FreshGrass contemporary bluegrass weekend in September. Have a look at what’s coming next.

Events at Mass MoCA
FreshGrass, Mass MoCA's annual bluegrass and contemporary music festival, returns in September.
Photo by Doug Mason, courtesy of Mass MoCA

Music at Mass MoCA

The tenor from Mexico City is singing with brass, guitar and galloping banjo, and the sound draws people in until the crowd overflows the courtyard. The band has come up from Brooklyn, and people are dancing around the stage, spinning in each other’s arms.

Many of the contemporary artists here are performers. The museum hosts year-round concerts with international and Grammy-winning musicians, and residencies for works in progress — and major festivals in the summer and fall.

Music at Mass MoCA
'The Shining,' Michael Oatman's silver Airstream vintage space ship, sits on the roof at Mass MoCA.
Kate Abbott

History of Mass MoCA

Mass MoCA has always been an unpredictable creative space — the kind of place where a piano tuner tests the arcitecture for balance.

It began in the mid-1980s. North Adams was at a low point — Sprague Electric, the city’s major employer for generations, was closing down, and the town was losing jobs at other mills as well. In their wake, a group of North Adams and Williamstown innovators started talking.

In the summer of 1999, the galleries opened for their first summer season. A horned motorcycle trailed the Fibbonacci sequence, metal floor tiles reflected colored light, and Robert Rauschenberg prints and collages filled a room as a long as football field.