A red brick building located in the heart of North Adams, once a mill, now an artfully stripped and industrially resonant space for art, artists and the global community: sound familiar? It’s CAC, the Contemporary Artists Center, a not-for-profit artists’ facility that provides both gallery and studio space for artists in residence. Though now in its tenth year of existence, CAC is hardly as familiar to many as MassMoCA, its youthful neighbor. While MassMoCA is ablaze with futurity, having incorporated the traces of its history as a factory into its new incarnation as museum, creating a new, literally “post-modern” cultural space, CAC seems more old-fashioned, reminiscent of the artists’ colonies at the turn of the century, those seemingly naive hubs of ideas and inspiration. Its stated mission, though, “to create a unique environment for the creation of contemporary art and its exhibition,” is quite timely. Artist Eric Rudd, its co-founder along with his wife Barbara, describes it informally as a gathering place for artists from all over the world, in which they reside, work, exhibit, interact, inspire and be inspired, all at affordable prices.
According to Rudd, CAC’s uniqueness lies in this sensitivity towards the economic plight of young, unestablished artists. Rudd sees residing at CAC for several weeks or months as a viable alternative to living in Hoboken, New Jersey, while struggling to break into the tightly sealed circle of galleries and museums centered in Manhattan. CAC provides the resident artists with access to everything they might need, from cheap raw materials such as paper from nearby factories, Berkshire induced inspiration of both its mountains and museums, and interaction with some of the most innovative minds in the arts, to spacious studios and state-of-the-art equipment for making it. Ultimately, Rudd sees CAC as both an alternative and challenge to the star-making power and seductive gloss of New York City.
The center, located on Historic Beaver Mill on Route 8, is anything but glossy. Positioned practically a footstep from the road, with the ubiquitous red brick facade and long rows of tall, paned windows, and only a green metallic flap and a row of green umbrellas to distinguish it from any other abandoned factory, CAC appeals in a gritty, unpretentious way. The entrance takes the visitor through a coffeeshop, into a spacious gallery on its left. The ceilings are slightly low, with columns supporting it at irregular intervals, and the walls, painted a clean museum white, manage to retain their rough-hewn, factory style. Most refreshingly, the walls are festooned with delicate and limply hanging paper cut-outs, wherein the shadows they cast on the wall are as much a part of the effect as the cut-outs themselves. By Jane South, these works manage to be at once unassuming, poignant and inventive.
Further down a long hallway, bordered by windows level with the cars as they whooshed by, and floored by unvarnished, splintering wooden boards, are two more smaller gallery spaces, one with a rurally-inspired, site-specific installation by Rafe Churchill, complete with hay bales, twine and canvas hangings. The end of the hallway opens up onto the center’s largest gallery, which houses the exhibition “Mixographia: Method and Medium.” Included are prints by American greats Loiuse Bourgeois and George Segal, with a host of other international artists from Mexico and Spain to France and Korea, displaying therein not only a great range of styles but also a commitment to global perspectives. The gallery itself becomes an important player in the exhibition, with an elegant yet acrobatic layout, and views onto what amounts to a natural still-life, a maze of tree trunks and a river with dam.
Recently, CAC cleverly allied itself with the Guggenheim, instituting an artist residency grant. Still, this does not alter the financial limitations inherent in its not-for-profit status. Except for the occasional special event, CAC closes during the winter months because it cannot afford the heating. Especially during the summer months, though, CAC plays a lively and unpredictable role in the community at large, with Rudd fond of “stirring the pot,” as he calls it. Both classical and contemporary in its aim, situated in what Rudd believes is a cutting-edge community full of internet start-ups and cultural frictions, CAC gives yet another form to the restless movement that is contemporary art.