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November 26, 2020
Joseph Thompson Steps Down as Leader of MASS MoCA
Joseph Thompson
Joseph Thompson

August 22, 2020 — The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams this week announced that Joseph Thompson, who has led the nonprofit since its founding in 1988, will step down as director.

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) said Tracy Moore will take over as interim director, following Thompson's transition to special counsel to the board of trustees on October 29.

Moore, who has nearly two decades of experience in contemporary art museum programming, management, and leadership, who joined MASS MoCA last year, currently serves as deputy director and chief operating officer, overseeing finance and operations.

The board of trustees plans to conduct a search for a new permanent director.

“We are grateful for everything Joe has done to build and invigorate MASS MoCA,” said Timur Galen, board chair of the MASS MoCA Foundation, which operates the museum. “His dedication, innovation, and leadership have made MASS MoCA a premier site for the creation and enjoyment of contemporary art, in all forms. On behalf of the entire Board and organization, we thank Joe for his decades as director and his continued partnership in this new role.

"MASS MoCA’s deep connections to the community through educational programs present endless room to innovate, as does our mission to be a place-maker and economic catalyst for North Adams.”

MASS MoCA, like virtually every other arts and culture organization in Massachusetts, experienced a dramatic decline in visitors and revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

The museum, which closed in March, reopened on July 11. At the time, Thompson said the museum had to raise a lot of money to make it through the closure, and took in about $1.6 million in private contributions. He said it also received about $900,000 through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, acknowledging he was "quite nervous" about how MASS MoCA would get through the next six months without something like PPP funding.

“MASS MoCA has deeply talented staff, strong governance, a vibrant program, large audiences, and a starter endowment in place," Thompson said last week. “While we’ve achieved much over the past few decades, there remains programmatic innovation, still to come. Our core work in commissioning and supporting the most important art of our time is, by definition, an endlessly renewable project. We’ve barely touched the 17 acres of outdoor grounds, and while we have an exciting and newly conceived Master Plan in place, two of our most important and strategically situated buildings remain to be programmed and renovated.”

MASS MoCA was originally conceived as a depot for the display of Minimal Art of the 1960s and 1970s, and as an auxiliary exhibition space for the Williams College Museum of Art, where Thompson began his career.

Under Thompson’s leadership, MASS MoCA’s program evolved into new, creative territory, offering a platform for changing exhibitions and large-scale temporary commissions conceived specifically for its vast galleries and fabricated on site. It also hosted year-round program of performing arts devoted to new music, dance, theater, film, and artist-in-residency workshops.

After a protracted period of fundraising, planning, and environmental clean-up, MASS MoCA celebrated its opening in 1999.

During Thompson’s tenure, the institution hosted more than 10,000 artists, working across all media. Annual visitation grew from 60,000 in the early years of the museum, to 300,000 per year (pre-COVID). The developed footprint of the 24-building factory campus has grown from 200,000 square feet in five buildings, to 550,000 square feet in 17 buildings, making MASS MoCA the largest institution in the United States devoted to new art.

For the year ending Sept. 30, 2018, the MASS MoCA Foundation reported $17.2 million in revenue, of which $10.6 million came from contributions and grants, and $14.9 million in expenses, according to its most recently available federal tax filing. It reported net assets totaling $67.5 million.

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