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MASS MoCA Plans To Double Its Size With $25.4 Million From State

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Xu Bing's "Phoenix" on view in the football field-size gallery of MASS MoCA's signature Building 5 last summer. (Greg Cook)

Xu Bing’s “Phoenix” on view in the football field-size gallery of MASS MoCA’s signature Building 5 last summer. (Greg Cook)

Plans for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to double its size by transforming more of the old Sprague Electric factory in North Adams into its sprawling art complex over the next three years got a boost Wednesday when the state House of Representatives approved $25.4 million for the construction. The funding must still be OK’d by the state Senate.

MASS MoCA, as the museum is known, reports that the project would “include the addition of some 130,000 square feet of gallery space, ultimately doubling the space currently available for exhibitions, plus significant work on its performing arts courtyards and other exterior venues.”

“Initiatives will be concentrated in Building 6, which sits like the prow of a ship at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Hoosic River, at the westernmost periphery of our campus,” MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said in a prepared statement.

The first part of this “Phase III renovation” opened last September—the transformation of an old concrete water storage tank into a seasonally-open, 10,000-square-foot gallery hosting a 15-year-long installation of paintings and sculptures by the German artist Anselm Kiefer on loan from the Hall Art Foundation, which was founded by commodities trader Andrew Hall and his wife Christine. The museum says the rest of Phase III will require $30 million in private contributions on top of the government funding.

"Oh, Canada," an extensive survey exhibition of art from America's northern neighbor, on view at MASS MoCA in 2012. (Greg Cook)

“Oh, Canada,” an extensive survey exhibition of art from America’s northern neighbor, on view at MASS MoCA in 2012. (Greg Cook)

If approved, the $25.4 million in state contributions would add to millions of dollars in public funds already poured into the museum’s rehabilitation of the 16-acre, 26-building site. Many credit the resurgence of North Adams over the past decade and a half to the museum. MASS MoCA says that it already generates “over $20 million per year” for the regional economy between the museum’s arts and music programs as well as 24 businesses operating on the site.

Government funding of Mass MoCA reflects the museum’s unique private-public partnership in which a special municipal authority, the MASS MoCA Commission, which was created by an act of the state Legislature in 1988, owns the museum’s land and buildings. The museum opened in 1999 backed by $35 million in state contributions plus an additional $15 million in private donations, according to the institution.

Phase II of the renovation included the development of commercial leasing space between 2001 and 2010 and the creation of a retrospective of 40 years of Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings installed across 27,000 square feet of a three-story mill building. The latter project, which opened in 2008 and is scheduled to remain on view for 25 years, was developed by the museum in collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown and Yale University Art Gallery in Connecticut. “Phase II development was largely privately funded,” the museum reports. Though a 2006 state report said “close to $12 million in state and federal grants and loans” had supported that work.

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Welcome to the ARTery. The ARTery offers the best of Art news, reviews and features in sounds, words, sights, stages, screens and experiences in and of Boston. The ARTery, presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, is powered by critic-at-large Ed Siegel and reporter and critic Greg Cook.

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