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The 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was celebrated in May 2019, commemorating a highly successful project that very nearly did not get off the ground in the first place. The origins of MASS MoCA began at a time of catastrophe in the city, yet the concept managed to rise from the ashes and become a celebrated centre for exhibiting some of the best contemporary art of the past two decades.  

Ragnar Horn is a financial supporter of MASS MoCA and of nearby Williams College, where the first curator Thomas Krens taught. 

In the Beginning 

The buildings that today house MASS MoCA were originally built by the Arnold Print Works towards the end of the 19th century. More information about the Arnold Print Works can be viewed in the PDF attachment to this post.  

They were later occupied by Sprague Electric Company, which was the major employer in the region. The catastrophe that came prior to the museum opening was that Sprague was closed down, causing more than 3,000 people to lose their jobs. This resulted in almost 20% unemployment in the rural Massachusetts area and left a complex of 26 buildings standing empty.  

The initial idea that would become MASS MoCA was located in buildings far too small for purpose, and so began an extensive refit of the former Sprague complex to launch the museum in a more fitting campus. 

Innovation in Art 

MASS MoCA has a series of galleries both vast and intimate, designed to showcase some of the best and most innovative contemporary art in all its forms. Exhibits and shows include painting, sculpture, music, dance, performing arts, film, photography and many more art forms, crossing traditional boundaries and helping artists create fresh and original work.  

Much of the work shown at MASS MoCA is created within the compound, which allows artists to take advantage of the many spaces dedicated to the pursuit of the arts. The complex features a 19th century courtyard network, light-filled indoor spaces, sophisticated technical stages, and more. 

The embedded infographic gives an overview of some of the ongoing exhibitions at MASS MoCA. 

Educational Programmes 

There are various educational programmes on offer at MASS MoCA to inspire guests and artists alike. These participatory learning programmes are designed to appeal to all, from students and artists to families, teachers, adults and teenagers.  

Programmes include curriculum-based learning experiences for in-depth art education in conjunction with local schools at the hands-on, child-centred gallery set aside for that specific purpose, question and answer sessions with artists, after school programmes and art camps, hands-on classes for making art, and more. In the short video attachment, you can learn more about the Bang on a Can festival that takes place at MASS MoCA each summer. 

Visual and Performing Arts 

All types of contemporary art are celebrated at MASS MoCA, with both visual and performing arts exhibitions taking place throughout each year. The soaring galleries within the complex allow for impressive installations that might not be possible to create elsewhere, showcasing both emerging and well-known artists in characterful settings.  

There are also upwards of 75 performances each year at MASS MoCA, ranging from alternative cabaret and contemporary dance to documentaries and silent films, indie-rock, dance music parties, and a wide range of other events. A full 50% of the available resources at MASS MoCA go towards the performing arts, including experimental research and development, residency workshops, and showings of works in progress.