BY ALEX GREENBERGERPlus Icon
MASS MoCA, the venerated contemporary art museum in North Adams, Massachusetts, has picked an influential figure in the performing arts world to replace Joe Thompson, the institution’s founding director, who left last October after 32 years at the helm. Kristy Edmunds, the current executive and artistic director of the Center for the Art of Performance at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been named the second-ever director of MASS MoCA. She will begin her new role in October.
With 250,000 square feet of space set inside a former mill complex, MASS MoCA is among the biggest museums in the U.S. and one of the most important contemporary art institutions in Massachusetts. Since its public opening in 1999, the museum, which does not have a permanent collection, has staged massive installations by Nick Cave, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz West, Cauleen Smith, James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, and many more.
It is unusual for a museum of MASS MoCA’s caliber to select a director who has not already led a similarly sized institution. And, although MASS MoCA does stage performing arts events, including its annual FreshGrass music festival, that programming tends to get less attention, nationally, than the museum’s art exhibitions. But, in a statement, MASS MoCA board chair Timur Galen said that Edmunds “stood out as someone with interests, experience and aspirations that are deeply aligned with ours.”
Edmunds has led the UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance since 2011, and has in that time staged performances that include an opera production of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower as well as Pam Tanowitz, Brice Marden, and Kaija Saarihao’s Four Quartets. In 2018, the center acquired the shuttered Crest Theatre, where they plan to stage performances after a renovation. Before directing the Center for the Art of Performance, Edmunds had acted as a consulting artistic director at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, been artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and served as the founding director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Oregon.
“A whole creative ecosystem exists in North Adams to realize the vision of artists—from inception to monumentally scaled completion, and everything in between—while also enhancing the economic benefits to the community,” Edmunds said in a statement. “It is a tremendous honor to be joining MASS MoCA and supporting this outstanding team of people who maintain a creative pipeline of possibility in one place.”