The 13-acre movie studios-like campus of 26 landmark factory buildings connect via courtyards, passageways, bridges, viaducts and elevated walkways. Transformed into soaring galleries and performance spaces, the industrial architecture is part of the show. Matching its massive scale is Mass MoCA’s “more platform than box” approach to forms including art, music, dance, theater, film and video.
This includes the child-centered Kidspace gallery and hands-on studio. “No bouncy ball pits here,” says Laura Thompson, Mass MoCA’s director of education and Kidspace curator. “Featuring works from professional artists, the gallery engages children in thinking about and discussing topics ranging from social issues to art itself,” explains Thompson. “At the ArtBar, children create art relative to the exhibitions,” she continues. “Like the wider museum, it’s a great environment for building awareness and getting families to process and talk about what they are seeing.”
Thompson’s “magnum opus” for the next five years is to “think about the role that Kidspace can play in helping people become more self-aware and expressive through art.” Launching this month at the bright gallery, “Walk In My Shoes” features human-like dolls, monsters and other provocative images designed to “activate empathic responses and amplify awareness of one’s feelings and compassion towards others.”
Keep the buzz going in Williamstown, where my alma mater, Williams College, swirls with art and culture. Family-specific programming at the superb Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute includes “Looking Closely” cards to help kids connect with the museum’s world-class art and sculpture collection. There’s great fare at the museum’s Stone Hill Café, plus breathtaking mountain vistas from the trails traversing the 140-acre property.
Since 1954, stars of stage and screen have performed in the summertime Williamstown Theatre Festival. Since 1976, college institution Pappa Charlie’s Deli has honored these actors with sandwiches in their name, including the late Christopher Reeve, and more recently, Neil Patrick Harris.
South of Williamstown, Cricket Creek Farm is a working dairy farm open for tours of its renowned cheese-making operation, with cheese-making classes offered once a month.
Cultural and historic draws along the Route 7 corridor from Williamstown to Great Barrington include the national landmark Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield. Originally a Shaker community from 1790 to 1960, this “City of Peace” became a museum in 1960 and features 18 historic structures on 750 acres of land, with family activities galore.
Also in Pittsfield, the grand 1903 Colonial Theatre partners with the 1928 Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge to form the Berkshire Theatre Group, offering five total stages for theatre, music and the performing arts. Stockbridge is also home to the Norman Rockwell Museum, which features all 323 of the famed illustrator’s Saturday Evening Post covers and his studio.
Housed in the restored 1903 Lenox Station, the seasonal Berkshire Scenic Railroad Museum features vintage diesel locomotives and carriages, with train rides on its Hoosac Valley Service (between Adams and North Adams) set to return this Memorial Day. Great Barrington’s landmark Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (1905) is one of the nation’s oldest surviving theaters.
Dining choices in The Berkshires range from the higher end, such as rave-reviewed farm-to-table siblings Allium Restaurant + Bar in Great Barrington and Mezze Bistro + Bar in Williamstown (reservations recommended, both fill fast); family-ready casual options, such as Baba Louie’s for pizza (Pittsfield and Great Barrington), bistro-style Public in North Adams; and breakfast, lunch, and brunch hotspot Haven Cafe and Bakery in Great Barrington. In the nearby village of Monterey, gay-owned Monterey General Store is a magical riverside spot for breakfast, lunch, and farm fresh fare, housed in a circa-1780 post and beam treasure.
Diverse family-friendly overnight options, meanwhile, include Great Barrington’s cozy Briarcliff Motel. Owners Richard and Clare Proctor, a lovely British couple formerly in marketing and publishing, converted this former motor lodge into a 16-room B&B with traveling families in mind.
In the heart of downtown Great Barrington, owners Gaeten Lachance and Michael Farmer have artfully revived the top floor of an 1880’s warehouse into their six-suite The Barrington. South of Williamstown on Route 2, the 1896 House is a gay-friendly choice; while in North Adams, the celebrated 47-room Porches Inn revives of a row of colorful Victorian-era tenement houses across from Mass MoCA.
Slated to open this spring, Hotel on North is downtown Pittsfield’s first new hotel in decades. The new 45-room boutique revives the famed Besse-Clarke menswear and sporting goods emporium, formed from adjoining national landmark buildings from the 1880s.
Speaking of restoration and renaissance, The Guest House at Field Farm is a supreme adults-only sanctuary just down from Cricket Creek Farm, south of Williamstown.
Set on farmland from the mid-1800’s (and still producing hay), the former home of Lawrence Bloedel (Williams ’23) is now a singular six-room bed and breakfast managed by the Trustees of Reservations. Back from WWII, Bloedell, formerly the college librarian and an expert art collector, first met with Frank Lloyd Wright to build the home, but the pair clashed and Wright moved on. Architect Edwin Goodell took over, delivering a Bauhaus-inspired classic in 1948. Resisting the Mad Men reference, I’ll say it’s like stepping into my grandparents’ 1940’s home in L.A. With its Modernist-meets-International lines, midcentury modern furnishings, books, artwork (Bloedell donated much of his collection to the Williams College Museum of Art and to the Whitney) and outdoor sculptures, it’s pure escapism, including the 1965 “Folly” cottage, presently under renovation.
Before dawn on my last morning, I rambled the four miles of trails on the 316-acre property. Then, seated outside in front of the house, enjoying the power of the early spring wind, I reflected on my first Berkshires pilgrimage in a quarter-century.
From the Dream Away Lodge to this dreamy moment, gazing at Mount Greylock, Thoreau’s Aurora, I had rediscovered a place for engaging the mind, challenging the body, and freeing the soul—ideal for families looking to get the most out of their travel. And I thought of young Chloe Charbonneau, turning 13 this summer, and her liberating moment.
“Coming out was a challenge, and certainly a very emotional and stressful time for me,” they told me by phone. “But I have gained a lot of confidence in myself and my decisions now that I have announced a new identity, and I feel much more bold, and less hidden and scared.” Calling the Berkshires “beautiful, mellow, and safe, with variety of diverse people,” Chloe adds that, “you can definitely find a place that you belong when you come here.”