Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

You can ride a roller coaster at sunset. Take a virtual reality walk on the moon. Grab a micro-brew or a local taco and listen to live music in the courtyard.

The 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. You’ll find artists from across the country and around the world — this summer

Massachusetts native Joseph Grigely dives into sound and silence and his lived experiences with language and communication — he has been deaf since age 10. In What Way Wham? (White Noise and Other Works, 1996-2023) explores music, sound, color and conversation.

Following the thread of human connection, a sculptor and a photographer will bring their own visions — Malaysian artist Anne Samat explores Love (opening June 24) and Bronx-born Puerto Rican photographer Elle Pérez honors Intimacies (opening July 22).

Around them the museum theaters, and often the galleries, will fill with performances, ranging just as far in genre and geography. Many of them are free — summer Chalet concerts on Thursday nights, open studios with artists in residence, Kidspace family activities. If you’re local, pick up a museum pass at the libraryand come explore the whole place.

Artists in residence show their work in progress at Mass MoCA.
Mass MoCA

Art at Mass MoCA — 2023

The galleries revolve with new work in each season — from the rideable green roller coaster in EJ Hill’s Brake Run Helix to international artists in To See Oneself at a Distance, Jason Moran’s jazz-inflected Black Stars and and Carrie Sneider’s giant half-abstracted photographic prints.

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.

Crowds gather for live music at FreshGrass. Press photo courtesy of Mass MoCA.
Bright Ideas offers local brews at night in the Mass MoCA courtyard.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Food at Mass MoCA

Inside the museum and in the courtyard, you can find an informal network of restaurants, cafes and food trucks for a meal inside or out.

Chingon serves tacos inspired by the local chef’s travels in Mexico. Tunnel City Coffee scoops ice cream from High Lawn farm, made from local cream and the coffee shop’s own desserts — brownies, coconut macaroons …

Near the river, they even have an outdoor pizza oven that sometimes opens for community events, across from the edible gardens at the UNO community center.

Young musicians hang out with Bang on a Can Mark Stewart and the fellows (with their very own created instruments).
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. … 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 classical minimalist festival and Loud Weekend in July and August, and the FreshGrass contemporary bluegrass weekend in September. Have a look at what’s coming next.

Events at Mass MoCA
Allison Brown and Friends play the Music of The Band at FreshGrass 2016. Press photo courtesy of Mass MoCA.
Sunlight glows through a maple tree in the Mass MoCA courtyard.
Photo by 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.

Mass MoCA has always been known for contrasts that come together naturally. It’s a cosmopolitan center in he smallest city in the state, with the open ridge lines of the mountains on all sides. You walk in past upside-down trees — and a silver Airstream has crash-landed on the roof like a visitor from 1960s science fiction.

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.

BTW Berkshires