The North Adams Cultural Development Master Plan
The Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum (EMRCA) is the centerpiece of the comprehensive Cultural Master Plan for the City North Adams, building on the success of MASS MoCA and re-making the city into a truly international cultural destination. EMRCA is the key to the revitalization of Heritage Park and, by extension, the south side of main street, which was razed more than fifty years ago in the name of an urban renewal for downtown that never really took place. EMRCA is the key to the current plan by virtue of its capacity to attract a significant audience.
The Economic Impact Analysis completed in 2017 by the Center for Creative Community Development—an independent research center at Williams College—estimated audience demand at 500,000 to 750,000 visitors annually, based on three factors: existing attendance at Northern Berkshire cultural attractions; international comparables; and an extensive national audience survey conducted with the participation of 1Berkshire, the county wide Chamber of Commerce. If those numbers materialize, the economic impact will create as many as 1500 new jobs, transform the local economy, and jump start the other components of the Master Plan.
One significant feature of the Master Plan is that all the components—from Mass MoCA to EMRCA; from Heritage Park to the Mohawk Theater—are all within walking distance of one another, with the new Central Park/North Adams commons as its center.
In order to reverse the economic conditions that have continued to plague North Adams – population decline since the early 20th century, 18% of the population living below the poverty line, unemployment rates twice the state average – several new institutions must be established to cement the Northern Berkshires as a destination for cultural tourism and educational opportunity. Both Heritage Park and MASS MoCA were initial attempts to leverage culture and history for economic success, but neither has delivered to the extent that was hoped. With additional institutions, day trips will become overnights, and economic impact will be increased 8-fold.
The existing cultural context lays the ground-work for further development. Capitalizing on current world-class institutions in the region including the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Clark’s $160M expansion, MASS MoCA’s on-going expansion ($25M public, $30M private), WCMA’s new museum in the concept design phase, and Williams College taking on a variety of construction projects, the time is ideal.
Given the existing assets of the region—such as the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute MASS MoCA, and the Williams College Museum of Art—and the renewed energy for redevelopment, it is time for North Adams to capitalize on this momentum and realize the vision of a cultural corridor. Re-purposing historic industrial sites allows North Adams to connect with its past, while redirecting its attention to further develop the culture and education industries. These sectors have already established themselves as crucial to the economic success of the region but require further investment in order to have a truly transformative effect.
The following outlines the principles underlying the vision of the cultural corridor:
North Adams has to fully embraced the notion that culture and education are its primary industries.
The concept of a North Adams – Williamstown “Cultural Corridor” has to become the identity and the marketing brand of the valley.
The “Cultural Corridor” vision overlaps with the steps identified in the North Adams Master Plan developed by SHoP & HRA in 2013.
The strategy has to be authoritative and creative: its implementation needs to be both timely and dramatic.
By moving toward a more balanced relationship between the existing cultural assets as well as between Williamstown and North Adams, the region will accomplish economic development and growth.