“Let me tell you something about Mass MoCA. The entire area will change. Some say it will be two years, some say it will be three, but I’m going a bit further. I think it’s going to be four or five years. It will benefit North Adams, Adams, Pittsfield, Troy, and Albany. Mass MoCA is going to benefit the entire area. This Mr. Thompson, the director, and his wife are unusual people. They’re young, and they have young ideas. As far as dance, opera, movies, I think we’re going to have everything here. I hope I’m living to see all this. I think I will be.”
“I have traveled a great deal. I have seen almost all of the art that is to be seen. I’ve been to the Louvre, all of Italy, Portugal, Spain, and England. I’ve seen it all. Now I am ready to look at something different, a different form of art. I want to see everything that comes to Mass MoCA, because it’s different. And that’s why I listen to jazz. I like modern dance. I like everything that’s modern.” -Venice Partenope, born November 30, 1902
It’s Thursday, May 20. Another typical North Adams morning. Clouds hang low on the mountains, bathing the city in a beautiful gloom. I love this time. It feels like God has pulled the shades down, and I can do what I want to do and be what I want to be.
The old-timers gather by the window at the Bean and talk about – well – old things. The strange man with the cowboy boots sits on the stoop nearby. In front of Newberry’s, the usual crowd waits for the bus. These folks without wheels have become sort of a street subculture. They wander about and chatter among themselves. Many smoke. Some look impatient. Soon they will move aside as men in blue suits and women in bright skirts cross the street and head into offices at 85 Main.
Up toward Eagle, a different subculture occupies the Pizza House. They remind me of carnival workers waiting for show time. But they are an endearing group, their unheard animated conversations looking like a silent movie with no subtitles. Around the corner, a strong whiff of grease comes from Jack’s Hot Dogs.
A Hearse pulls up in front of St. Francis Church. Another of the faithful has passed on. At the other end of town, boys and girls walk down from Furnace and High Streets and up East Main Street to Conte Middle School. The familiar woman with the doll rides by on her bike.
All appear unfazed by the hustle and bustle on Marshall Street. A policeman guides drivers and pedestrians around noisy paving machines and workmen ripping down a fence. A young lady wheeling a baby stroller descends Houghton Street, barely makes it across River Street, and peeks in at the upside-down trees that dangle from a strange contraption. A few more people go by, but they don’t appear to notice.
Thirty years ago, there was a similar hustle and bustle on Ashland and State Streets and the south side of Main. Instead of paving machines, there were cranes. Instead of building a fence, workmen were demolishing old buildings as the city fathers displaced store owners and apartment dwellers, as well as a few frightened rats and pigeons. It was all part of a cruel twist on Field Of Dreams: “Tear it down and they will come.”
This time, the rugged buildings that have stood proudly as the focal point of this city for 125 years are being restored, renewed, and reused. Mass MoCA is giving North Adams something it hasn’t had for a long time – an identity.
But like the people and buildings that were swept away by the force of urban renewal almost two generations ago, what will happen to the familiar and the mundane that we will cherish only after they are gone? What will the force of Mass MoCA sweep away?