AVANGRID and Berkshire Gas Invest $80,000 in MASS MoCA Expansion
Berkshire Gas Early Investment in Arts Incubator Pays Big Economic Dividends
Pittsfield, MA – May 26, 2017 - When one thinks of a natural gas utility, they don’t typically think of an enterprise that is deeply steeped in the arts. Rather, the stereotype is of an industrial/technical complex of energy delivery professionals and industrial systems. And while Berkshire Gas is that to a degree, its commitment to community and the arts makes the Company so much more than just an energy utility.
With the opening of the final build-out phase of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts on May 28th, the Company’s investment some 30 years ago in an unlikely arts start up has benefited the region and the arts in both the United States and abroad.
Not only has the museum’s success validated Berkshire’s reputation for supporting the many arts and cultural attractions in western Massachusetts, MASS MoCA also has an annual regional economic impact in excess of $22 million.
History – An Unlikely Start-Up
In 1987, the northern Berkshire County economy in western Massachusetts was in a state of disarray following the 1985 closure of Sprague Electric, the region’s last major long-term employer and manufacturer. Two arts entrepreneurs saw opportunity in the North Adams electronic plant’s closure, and began developing a feasibility study for what would become the largest exhibition space for contemporary art in North America and one of the largest in the word.
While local officials rallied area interests and support, state level economic development officials were supportive but skeptical.
A start up of this magnitude required resources and early commitments of support, as the developers swam against a tide of doubt and disbelief that North Adams could become an arts mecca for the region and beyond.
Berkshire Gas stood strong with local officials and the development team working on the MASS MoCA concept. As the developers took possession of the sprawling 16-acre industrial complex, they lacked the resources needed to heat and maintain the 26 building campus. Berkshire Gas was instrumental in providing energy to heat and preserve the integrity of the overall facility while final plans were completed and financing was secured.
It was the stability and breathing room provided by this support from the Company that made it possible for the development team to ultimately move forward and be successful. The Company’s support also demonstrated corporate confidence in the MASS MoCA proposal and served as a magnet for additional investment, both public and private.
Today, MASS MoCA has become one of the world’s largest and most productive centers for making and showing new art that matters. With no permanent collection, the museum hosts long-term installations (up to 25 years), organizes short-term exhibitions (6-18 months), and presents live music, theater, and dance performances all year round. All 26 buildings on MoCA’s 19th-century factory campus are listed on the National Historic Register.
As the museum evolves, Berkshire Gas continues its commitment to the organization’s mission of hosting “innovative collaborations….and creating a stimulating center of creativity and commerce that brings life and economic vibrancy to the region”. This commitment has had a particular focus on the ever-expanding performing arts programming offered by the museum.
With more than 75 events, festivals and ongoing programs hosted, developed and curated annually, MASS MoCA has become accessible to audiences beyond those with a focus on traditional contemporary art. The performing arts program has also been a conduit for visitorship to the facility by audiences that otherwise may have never discovered all that MASS MoCA has to offer.
With its sponsorship support, Berkshire Gas has engaged both its employees and the public at large at the Museum by helping to make possible diverse programming attracting wide audiences.
Berkshire Gas has also been the principal sponsor of the Museum’s annual Free Day, each winter, making it possible for anyone to visit, explore and experience MASS MoCA free of charge, again with the emphasis on making this vital cultural and educational attraction accessible to all. Free Day attendance has grown annually, with more than 4,000 visitors having taken advantage of the opportunity in February of 2017.
Berkshire Gas Gallery
In recognition of the Company’s support and association, MASS MoCA designated a gallery on the ground floor of Building 4 as the Berkshire Gas Gallery in 1999 when the Museum first opened.
Currently on exhibit in the 500 square foot gallery visitors will see the work of Matt Saunders, a Massachusetts based artist who makes process-based works that merge painting with photography, video and animation. This work is part of a multi-artist exhibition entitled “In the Abstract”.
This gallery has been a particular point of pride for the Company and further highlights the unlikely and highly successful association of a local natural gas utility with a nationally recognized art museum and performing arts organization.
Phase III and Building 6
Built on the success of MASS MoCA over it’s 18 year history, the Museum began the next chapter of it history as planning got underway for the Phase III expansion.
Phase III adds 130,000 square feet to MASS MoCA’s current galleries and operating space, as well as 30,000 square feet of interior courtyards. As part of this undertaking, Building 6, on MASS MoCA’s 19th-century factory campus, has been fully developed extending MASS MoCA’s “campus of museums” model, in which MASS MoCA hosts projects curated and conceived with partner artists, foundations, and other third-party institutions.
AVANGRID and Berkshire Gas
Continuing its long standing history as an integral partner, Berkshire Gas and its parent company, AVANGRID, made a significant local commitment of $80,000 in support of the Building 6 expansion through The Avangrid Foundation.
In keeping with the Company’s long-standing support of performing arts offerings at MASS MoCA, the Avangrid Foundation support will be used to underwrite the Gunnar Schonbeck Gallery in Building 6. This space will have open rehearsal galleries where museum visitors will be invited to play and experiment with Schonbeck’s extraordinary creations. The project also includes the improvement of exterior courtyards and grounds to support annual performances.
About Gunnar Schonbeck
Gunnar Schonbeck was a musical force of nature who believed that music was both for and in everyone. Over a fifty-year span, this dedicated Bennington College professor and composer built an arsenal of unlikely handmade musical instruments: a 9-foot banjo, drums made from aircraft fuselages, an 8-ft tall marimba, welded steel harps, and countless steel drums, zithers, pan pipes, tubular chimes, and triangular cellos.
With the help of Bang on a Can musician Mark Stewart (Paul Simon’s musical director and joyous musical genius), MASS MoCA has placed the instruments in open rehearsal galleries where museum visitors, professional visiting musicians, and schoolchildren will be invited to play and experiment.
A History of Support
In partnership with The Avangrid Foundation, Berkshire Gas is pleased to continue its tradition of support and investment in the arts and economic development in the Company’s western Massachusetts service area.
This key investment would not have been possible without the financial support and commitment of both AVANGRID and The Avangrid Foundation.
Acquired in 2014, Berkshire Gas is an operating subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc. (NYSE: AGR), a diversified energy and utility company with more than $31 billion in assets and operations in 27 states.
The Avangrid Foundation is committed to supporting initiatives that enhance the quality of life where AVANGRID and its subsidiaries operate, with a focus on energy sustainability, the environment, art and culture, and cooperation and solidarity.
Commenting on the Foundation’s investment, Avangrid Foundation Director, Nicole Licata Grant, explained, “The Avangrid Foundation is serious about making strategic community investments in partnerships that contribute to cultural and economic vitality. MASS MoCA is a win for all in this regard.”
Locally, Berkshire Gas President Karen Zink noted, “We are thrilled to continue our 30 plus year relationship with MASS MoCA and we look forward to their ongoing success and important role as an economic engine in the region.”
MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson also expressed his appreciation to both the Avangrid Foundation and Berkshire Gas noting “Berkshire Gas has been an integral part of MASS MoCA’s growth and success over the years.”
MASS MoCA opens the newly expanded facility to the public on Sunday, May 28, 2017 with an all day grand opening celebration.
# # #
About AVANGRID: AVANGRID, Inc. (NYSE: AGR) is a diversified energy and utility company with more than $31 billion in assets and operations in 27 states. The company owns regulated utilities and electricity generation assets through two primary lines of business, Avangrid Networks and Avangrid Renewables. Avangrid Networks is comprised of eight electric and natural gas utilities, serving approximately 3.2 million customers in New York and New England. Avangrid Renewables operates more than 6 gigawatts of owned and controlled renewable generation capacity, primarily through wind and solar, in 22 states across the United States. AVANGRID employs approximately 6,800 people. For more information, visit www.avangrid.com.
About Berkshire Gas: Berkshire Gas is a subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc. (NYSE: AGR). Berkshire Gas has been meeting the energy needs of western Massachusetts for more than 160 years. Serving approximately 40,000 natural gas customers, Berkshire Gas prides itself on providing outstanding customer service and meeting its customers’ energy requirements in an environmentally responsible manner, with an emphasis on safety and reliability. For more information, visit www.berkshiregas.com.
413.445.0312 Cell: 413-441-9627