Jennifer Trainer has, with the success of MASS MoCA, seen a dream come true, one she herself has documented with “Museum Town.”
Trainer, a writer, filmmaker and currently director of Hancock Shaker Village, began in the mid-‘80s when North Adams was a seriously troubled town.
“Sprague Electric pulled out of North Adams,” Trainer recalled.
This town of 12,000 had just lost its major employer of 4,000 people and they were all suffering.
“It was like the plug had been pulled out of this rural, remote, academic area.”
At a cocktail party in 1986 Trainer met the Williams College Museum of Art director who suggested the abandoned factories be re-invented as a contemporary art gallery.
“I thought,” Trainer, 64, recalled, “this is preposterous and this is amazing. I went to look at the plant – and totally fell in love with the complex, 28 buildings on 13 aces. Two rivers and bridges and moats. Like this decaying medieval city.
“I hopped aboard.”
To open, industrial renovations and lots of money were necessities. “In the very earliest days, Governor Dukakis loved the idea. Then Governor Weld came into office and sent us a cease and desist order basically.
He said, ‘Prove that there’s public support.’ We went to the local cobbler, to the local grocery store clerk. They were all suffering. We said, What would it be like if there were tourists coming here? People come to the Berkshires, 200,000 go to the Clark. People come to Jacob’s Pillow, the Hancock Shaker Village, Tanglewood. What if you were part of that constellation? What would that do for your business?
“They pledged based on that — and they didn’t have to honor their pledge unless the state said yes. So at some point you’re holding the hope of all these people. It was hard [when things got tough and she worked for six months without a salary] to walk away from.”
There’s a funny incident in the film where David Byrne had done an art installation and the opening night cocktail party was a fundraiser.
Among the exhibits Byrne devised, one had little old ladies recorded reading outrageous, violent, sexist rap lyrics.
“Weld was this brown-shoed, buttoned-up Republican governor and on his way to his Adirondacks hunting camp stopped by.
“We were scared,” Trainer said. “I mean, my God, is this the kind of art we’re going to show? It was like, Well, there’s no hiding it now with all those lyrics.”
And what did they discover? “He was a Talking Heads fan!”
The funds were approved; today MASS MoCA thrives.
The Boston “Museum Town” virtual cinema release is through ICA, The Institute of Contemporary Art, starting Dec. 18 via Kino Marquee virtual cinema platform.
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