In this episode, we speak with Jennifer Trainer, director of the documentary, Museum Town which released earlier in 2019, debuting at SXSW. Museum Town tells the story of MASS MoCA, arguably the United States’ most expansive contemporary art space, but it does a lot more besides. This flick situates the museum within the various contexts of history, culture, and economic development. With memories and observations contributed by political figures, local business owners, the general public, artists, and the architects of the original idea, Museum Town takes an unflinching look back at how their instincts were, in many ways, spot on, but at the same time missed the mark here or there.
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Thanks for tuning in to Episode #71 of Will Call here at the Greylock Glass, the Berkshire’s mightiest independent alternative newsthing. I’m your host, Jason Velazquez, and I’d like to remind you that if you like the programming and articles you find at the Greylock Glass, you can support our work by becoming a member for as little as a dollar per month. Find out more by going to greylockglass.com/membership.
Such a documentary, in part compiled of photos footage collected by the museum itself over the years, risks being overly promotional, yet Trainer stops well short of creating an overly self-congratulatory paean to an institution that has, at time generated intense criticism. The film makes its cinematic debut at Images Cinema in Williamstown, Friday, November 1 with a discussion featuring Jennifer Trainer, Representative John Barrett, producer Noah Bashevkin, producer Rachel Chanoff.
Museum Town — showing 11/1 through 11/7
Jennifer Trainer, on Museum Town
My goal was really to tell what I knew. My goal was to tell the history of MASS MoCA and what MASS MoCA is today, and to tell a story about risk and taking risk, and what that means…To compress 30 years into 90 minutes is impossible, and, as my cinematographer said to me, you’re going to leave many of your babies on the cutting room floor, because they don’t serve the point, the purpose in the end, and that was so true. It killed me to leave out something that we had filmed.
But, ultimately, we picked five characters, and they were an artists that we followed through an installation for 18 months, a curator and how the curatorial process works, because I also wanted to show what it’s like to work inside a museum. And then we picked the guy in the basement who’s actually fabricating some of these works, because so many of these massive contemporary pieces are not just made by one person in their studio — they’re really like a film their collaborative effort.
I also saw the buildings as a character, because the buildings inform so much of what is done there The buildings informed the whole idea. The buildings represent the New England before the Civil War, before World War I, after World War II, the post-industrial community. They are beloved by people who live in North Adams.
And then I really wanted somebody from North Adams who could really act also as every man, you know, the guy who walks into a gallery and says “my kid could paint that — what is that?” Because I wanted the perspective of somebody who approached it from the outside, from the community. So then we braided all that together with historic footage and the soundtrack, which I felt was also really important, because I wanted really great music.
Again, Museum Town runs November 1 through November 7 at Images Cinema, 50 Spring Street, Williamstown, MA
As always, we’ve provided links in the shownotes to all the important info mentioned on the show. Thanks for tuning in, and, until next time, get off the couch and go see something live.