In the Gallery


MASS MoCA is the nation’s largest contemporary art museum and one of the most influential by Heather DiLeo

Image of MASS MoCA
A viewer encounters James Turrell’s Into the Light exhibition, which opened as part of MASS MoCA's new Building 6 collection.

Situated between two other major cultural hubs—the Berkshires and New York’s Capital Region—Bennington has often been defined by its neighboring draws and less often by its own creative pull. In 2017 that changed when the National Center for the Arts ranked Bennington the third most vibrant arts community in the U.S. for its size. 

Bennington’s artistic vitality owes considerably to the way area arts organizations share objects from their respective collections, synchronize shows, and think about how their programming can complement one another’s. Then, there’s the symbiotic relationship these organizations have with the College. 

When you pair College faculty and student artists, the start and stop of these collaborations between institutions can be difficult to distinguish. Members of the College community curate for, perform, exhibit, volunteer, and intern with nearly all of the cultural organizations in the area. The history of specific College-institutional collaborations would fill several volumes. Underlying all of them is a common vision of the vital role the arts play in the community.

Anne Thompson, inaugural director and curator of Bennington College’s Suzanne Lumberg Usdan Gallery, came to Bennington drawn to the local/campus permeability. She sees her role as curator inside and outside of the Usdan Gallery—one that will build on the myriad of developing partnerships with arts organizations locally, regionally, and globally.

“Bennington has a rich history and stunning landscape,” Thompson says. “I’m talking with a lot of people, looking at campus, looking at the region, seeing what opportunities there are to work in a context-specific way here in Vermont. The College’s history of innovation lends itself really well to thinking in an experimental way about how art gets exhibited on and off campus and in collaboration with institutions in the region and around the country,” she says.

While the area is saturated with a growing art scene, here are some of the current cultural exchanges between arts organizations and the Bennington College community. 

Mass MoCA
1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, MA 01247

MASS MoCA is the nation’s largest contemporary art museum and one of the most influential—“a site for all eyes,” raves The New York Times, a “mecca,” according to the Boston Globe. MASS MoCA’s expansive 16-acre, 28-building former factory complex is infinitely flexible, as ideal for idiosyncratic shows and the priorities of the moment as it is for grand retrospectives and monumental art installations. Because the MASS MoCA campus is home to numerous fabrication and rehearsal residencies, it is also among the most productive art-making sites in the country.

“Bennington and MASS MoCA have a shared set of values that guide our respective missions,” says Paige Bartels, Bennington’s senior vice president for strategic partnerships, “as Bennington leads in higher education, MASS MoCA leads in the cultural sector, continually experimenting and pushing the envelope of what it means to present art (and performance). We also have a shared desire to collapse the divides between the region’s small towns—when we do, we collectively  have an enormous impact on the cultural landscape of the area.”

The connections between the two institutions are many: Bennington faculty regularly show at MASS MoCA, students work during FWT in a range of museum departments, and President Mariko Silver serves on the museum’s Board of Trustees. MASS MoCA featured a solo photography exhibition of faculty member Liz Deschenes in 2016 and faculty member Mary Lum’s recent monumental mural “Lorem Ipsum,” was created specifically for Building 6. In May 2017, the Museum’s massive Building 6 opened to the public with galleries devoted to works by, among others, James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Robert Rauschenberg, and former beloved Bennington faculty member and musicologist Gunnar Schonbeck. The Schonbeck Gallery is singular evidence of what likeminded institutions can accomplish together.

In 2011, music faculty member Nick Brooke captivated Bang on a Can All-Stars performer Mark Stewart by showing him Schonbeck’s experimental, often oversized instruments made of found objects, which Schonbeck and his students fabricated by hand over the decades he taught at Bennington.The two worked with the Schonbeck family, as well as with Sue Killam, the museum’s managing director of performing arts and MASS MoCA director Joe Thompson to transfer the collection from Schonbeck’s former “instrumentarium” on the College’s Commons building to MASS MoCA, where Stewart guided local luthiers and students, including museum intern Webb Crawford ’18, who worked over several summers and FWTs, in restoring them. Over the last several years, musicians visiting MASS MoCA, including Wilco, incorporated Schonbeck’s instruments in their performances and projects. Now installed in a dedicated gallery in Building 6, the instruments
in the Schonbeck Gallery are available for visitors to experience first-hand Schonbeck’s distinctive approach to music-making.

Bartels notes that the College’s connection to MASS MoCA is a prime example of the way Bennington is
approaching institutional partnerships. “We’re committed to building collaborations that go beyond Field Work Term students and relationships our faculty have with MASS MoCA; we’re looking to work collectively to advance and strengthen the artistic communities we’re in, advancing and extending our missions as we do.” 

Image of MASS MoCA
Image of MASS MoCA
Image of MASS MoCA