WCMA to potentially move to old inn

Arrington Luck

Though a final decision has not been made, WCMA may move to the old Williams Inn from Lawrence Hall. (Nicky Wu/The Williams Record).

Members of the administration, faculty, staff and trustees have identified the former Williams Inn location as the designated site for a potential relocation of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA).

The latest decision comes after years of deliberation about WCMA and conditions in Lawrence Hall, where the museum is currently housed. Between 2014 and 2017, a building committee investigated issues in Lawrence Hall’s art storage and building space, but discussions came to a halt before a recommendation could be made.

According to Provost Dukes Love, 15 separate sites were explored as potential relocation spots, including Clark Hall and a location on Water Street, but the College ultimately halted these discussions.

“At the end of the day, the College made the decision…to put that project on pause because there was both a question about a site and also a really fundamental question about the shared future of the arts on campus between the museum and the folks in the arts departments,” Love said.  

Since then, the College has engaged in a strategic planning process surrounding the arts more broadly on campus, entitled The Future of The Arts. 

“It’s not about a museum,” Love said. “It’s about music and theater and dance, integrative arts, interdisciplinary arts and recognizing the fact that the arts are both historically an essential part of the college experience here and also clearly, looking at this place from the outside, it should be one of the great comparative strengths of Williams College.”

According to Rita Coppola-Wallace, the College’s executive director for design and construction, Lawrence Hall’s piecemeal construction has contributed to some of its issues surrounding the storage of art, which led to WCMA’s delayed accredidation last year. Furthermore, the building’s skylights, mechanical systems, sprinkler placement and energy efficiency are all issues that the College would have to address if it were to decide to keep WCMA in Lawrence Hall.

While the College worked to alleviate some of the concerns about accreditation, on-campus discussions also touched upon relocation possibilities for the museum. The group investigated a Park Street location before ultimately deciding that it would be an untenable choice. 

Ultimately, a group of college administrators recommended to the board of trustees that the former Williams Inn site be the space for a potential new museum.

Love made it clear, however, that the College is still working through a strategic planning process and that a decision has not been reached on moving the museum from Lawrence Hall.

“I think of it as actually a really exciting moment,” Love said. “It is still a live conversation: should we move forward with a new museum. There’s no presumption that we will.” 

Coppola-Wallace emphasized that both choices – moving the museum or keeping it in Lawrence Hall – would come with drawbacks. “Should Lawrence Hall be renovated for the museum, WCMA would have to close for at least a two-year period, which would of course have a hugely negative effect on the curriculum,” she said.

For WCMA Director Pamela Franks, however, the current strategic planning process offers an opportunity for the museum to continue to fill its programmatic missions.

“There’s a long, long legacy of this museum being an incredible teaching institution and working with the student community and the broader community and our faculty colleagues to kind of create a really innovative program among art museums anywhere,” Franks said. “We want to continue to do that, think about … how we bring that legacy into the future.”