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Mass MoCA Sees Tenant Closures During Pandemic
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:05AM / Thursday, November 05, 2020
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two tenants on the campus of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art won't be reopening after closing at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 
 
Interim Director Tracy Moore informed the Mass MoCA Commission last week that Gramercy Bistro and Cynthia-Reeves gallery have closed. 
 
"We did lose a couple of tenants in the in the COVID months of the spring," she said. 
 
Reeves had operated her contemporary art gallery on the campus for several years and Gramercy Bistro, with chef Alexander "Sandy" Smith moved to the museum a decade ago after nine years on Marshall Street. 
 
"[Reeves] had been contemplating a change, and the COVID situation really confirmed her thinking and so she parted ways with us around the July timeframe," Moore said. "Gramercy Bistro has also left our campus. They did not reopen with Phase 3 guidelines, again, had been contemplating possible change, and did not reopen in the summer along with the rest of our campus so that space is vacant."
 
The gallery space already has a tenant, "an old dear friend of Mass MoCA Jane Eckert," she said. "[She] was excited at the opportunity to move in to the as-is perfectly articulated and perfectly sized space that was recently vacated from Cynthia Reeves."
 
Eckert, who has operated Eckert Fine Art in Kent, Conn., since the mid-1990s, worked on the museum's fundraising team and was a member of the Director's Advisory Council. 
 
"She's a real advocate for the arts for Mass MoCA for the arts for artists and sort of perfectly suited to the way we've envisioned Building 13 being a hub of the cultural activities with our Assets for Artists operation, anchor the Artists Book Foundation, and Leslie Ferrin's beautiful gallery," said Moore. "She's really the perfect fit."
 
Gramercy's space is currently being used for overflow for Lickety Split but the museum has had some inquiries. One that seemed serious with "a very intriguing concept" may be off the table since the chef is overseas at the moment. There was also interest in doing more of a lunch space but Moore said the museum sees that space as key anchor that should be filled by a full-service restaurant.
 
"I've got some work to do to sort of be proactive about looking for opportunities for that space," she said, acknowledging she is new to the commercial tenant business. 
 
Moore joined the museum as deputy director over a year ago and, as of the end of last week, had taken on the role of interim director because of the retirement of founding Director Joseph Thompson. 
 
The commission's meeting — the first in many months — was also Thompson's last. He provided the mostly new commission with an overview of the relationship between the museum and commission.
 
"We knew that we would be relying on both public and private financing and because we were going to make significant investments of public funds, namely through state grants, into these land and buildings, it seemed appropriate at the very least for them to be owned by the public," he said. But having the city operate the museum, "we determined would be a bad idea, particularly at the beginning of this project — it was fraught with risk."
 
And having the city take on the onus of programming and maintaining the museum seemed a "slightly crazy thing to do," Thompson said, especially since artists comment on all kinds of things "which can be political hot potatoes at times."
 
The nonprofit Mass MoCA Foundation operates the campus through a long-term lease and negotiates contracts with commercial tenants that then must be approved by the commission. 
 
"We've been full or mostly full for a long time now," Thompson said. "We've lost a couple of tenants owing to COVID and who knows, we still have obviously some challenging months still ahead of us."
 
Thompson is stepping down after 32 years leading the contemporary art museum; he will stay on for another year as special counsel to the board of trustees. 
 
"Mayor I just want to say thank you to you and to this commission. This is certainly one of the most unusual governmental bodies probably in the United States, if you really can think a little bit about what it does and what it means," Thompson said to Chairman Mayor Thomas Bernard. "We felt always so lucky. We've had good, sometimes contentious, but almost always productive relationships with our friends at City Hall."
 
He said one of his favorite spots in the museum is the plaque in Building 6 with the "litany of political leadership" that has supported Mass MoCA over the years. 
 
In other business: 
 
Board members Bernard, Robert Davis, Jane Lamarre, Amy Meehan, Jason Moran, Michael Obasohan and Gina Puc introduced themselves. Most have been appointed within the last year or so, with the exception of Gail Sellers, who was not present. The newest member, Davis, replaces his mother, Shirley Davis, who served on the commission for many years. 
 
• The board was updated on $1.3 million in renovations being done at the District Court in the former Sprague research building to accommodate Northern Berkshire Juvenile Court. The additional 8,000 square feet of space brings all the state court operations into one building. It is also the last of the commercial space that had not been renovated. The area, in the basement, is expected to be completed within the next two months.
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