For those who were brave enough to face icy roads and a possible $500 dollar fine for driving in inclement weather last Saturday morning, MASS MoCA’s annual “Free Day,” an opportunity to visit the museum without paying admission, proved to be the prime destination for those living in the Northern Berkshires. Beginning at 11 a.m. and continuing until 8 p.m., Free Day was jam-packed with events, tours, gallery performances and classes. The day ended with the capstone event, Psychedelic Latin Dance Party with Chicha Libre, at 8 p.m. While the other events were completely free, the dance party required a small charge of $10.
Because of the aforementioned driving ban in Massachusetts, which was still not lifted by Saturday morning, MASS MoCA was not crowded at the beginning of Free Day. Despite this slow start, the museum was fully prepared for the busy day to come. Extra interns and volunteers were hired to assist in the various areas of the museum. “With the roads being closed, it affected the [number] of people we normally get in the museum on Free Day,” Rachel Heisler, education coordinator at MASS MoCA, said. “This year, we had about 1100 people, where as last year we had about 2200 people. [The storm] definitely kept the people from further away from coming to the museum, but at least we had some more of the locals come through.”
Despite low attendance, it would be wrong to say that Free Day was not a success. While walking through the various exhibitions in the museum, including Xu Bing’s Phoenix, Oh, Canada and the Sol LeWitt retrospective, visitors were also allowed to participate in various crafts related to the artwork. To better understand the visual illusions from Sol LeWitt’s work, for example, people drew an image of their hand that tricked the eye into thinking it was three-dimensional. Beneath the soaring phoenix sculptures, guests stuck colorful Post-it notes to a community mural of a phoenix on the wall.
Music and dance were also featured throughout the day. Visitors could participate in the Gaga/people classes, taught by dancers from the Batsheva Dance Company. As described on the MASS MoCA website, this dance class was intended to “connect to your body and imagination, increase your physical awareness, improve your flexibility and stamina and experience the pleasure of movement in an accepting atmosphere.” There was also a flash mob performed by the local dance troop Berkshire Dance Theatre. Even the giant freight elevators of the museum were not devoid of art and were instead filled with the music of a live folk band. The same band played in several areas of the museum throughout the day.
“I think that Free Day went very well this year, with the exception of the snowstorm,” Heisler said. “It is always great to hear that people came especially because it was Free Day and that it was their first time ever in the museum. The art projects we chose to do, the talent of the young dancers, the lovely music that came from many talented people and the art that the museum offers made a great combination for a fun day for all.”
A day that draws from so many resources does not come together easily. Between organizing events for young children in Kidspace to making sure that there was enough staff, copious planning and effort goes into Free Day every year.
“The education department figures out the art projects that the public can participate in while our performing arts department figures out performance pieces that can be carried out throughout the day,” Heisler said. “On top of all of that, we had to find volunteers who would help make everything run smoothly. It was a lot of work for many people, but it is always rewarding to give something back to the people who come to MASS MoCA.”
Anyone who made it out that snowy day, either to participate in the community phoenix mural or to dance the night away at the a Psychedelic Latin Dance Party with Chicha Libre, was exposed to just how multi-faceted MASS MoCA is in terms of both art and community engagement.