Roundabout: A Phoenix, Risen from the Ashes
I had the pleasure of attending the FreshGrass Festival at Mass Moca in North Adams., Mass., this past weekend. The music was fantastic, the weather cooperative and the crowd, a nice mix of people young and old. But that’s not why I’m writing. What really excited me was the venue itself!
I had never visited Mass Moca and knew little about it when I arrived. It attracts thousands every year to its impressive visual and performing arts events. One of its current exhibits, titled ‘Pheonix,’ is especially apropos, given the new life that Mass Moca has given to this 13-acre complex of former industrial buildings, built between 1872 and 1900.
A textile operation occupied the site from 1860 to 1942, when Sprague Electric bought the site and converted it to an electronics plant. Sprague produced some pretty high-tech weapon components for the United States government during World War II, including the atomic bomb; in their heyday, the company employed more than 4,000 workers. All this came to an end when they were no longer able to compete with cheaper components manufactured abroad during the electronics boom. They closed shop in 1985. A year later, local visionaries began to discuss what might be done with the site, and Mass Moca began to take shape.
The campus of buildings is absolutely fascinating as a capsule of the region’s history and an industrial center reborn. It occupies nearly a third of the downtown’s business district, and is distinguished by a myriad of architectural features. Bridges, overhead walkways and a viaduct connect courtyards defined by massive red brick buildings.
A huge boiler room is still intact, with a series of rusty pipes, valves, ladders and boilers, snaking thoughout the 3-story building. It looks a lot like an installation of modern art, befitting Mass Moca’s mission of supporting the creation of new art.
By the way, ‘Pheonix,’ constructed by Chinese artist Xu Bing, is housed in a building as long as a football field, and features two massive birds suspended overhead; they are made up of demolition debris from construction sites in urban China, and weigh 12 tons each. They will be on exhibit until October 27. Visit massmoca.org for the details.
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