WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Friday, October 8, the Williams College Board of Trustees voted to move forward with the design phase of a new art museum on the former site of the Williams Inn, at the intersection of Routes 2 and 7 in Williamstown. While the potential site for a new Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) had been determined in late 2019, college and museum leadership used the ensuing 22-month period to conduct an extensive building programming study in consultation with architecture firm Deborah Berke Partners of New York, NY. The delays precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic afforded a rare opportunity to delve deeper into the potential programming opportunities not just for a new museum building but also for Lawrence Hall—an historic campus building where the museum has resided since its founding in 1926—in line with the college’s strategic plan for the arts across campus.
Lawrence Hall was never intended to be an art museum; in fact, the 1846 building’s Weston Rotunda was the site of Williams College’s first library. Subsequent expansions in the 1920s and 1930s added classrooms and gallery space. In the 1980s a major expansion designed by architect Charles Moore was added. Currently, the museum occupies the third and fourth floors of Lawrence Hall with Art Department and WCMA offices, classrooms, and an auditorium on the first and second levels.
Plans for a new museum building have been many years in the making and are rooted in the college’s commitment to placing learning with objects at the center of a liberal arts education, and its vision for WCMA to grow and thrive as a leader and innovator among college art museums. The decision to move forward now is driven by practical and pressing needs related to the care and display of a global collection as well as to the care of our visiting public and campus audiences through greater accessibility and other accommodations not possible in the current facilities.
President Maud Mandel writes: “The new museum grows out of Williams’ commitment to the arts—a commitment that has defined us for over a century. Each year, faculty, students, and museum staff incorporate our collections into dozens of courses, ranging from art history to anthropology, biology, environmental studies, and mathematics, while our curators mount exhibitions that engage campus and diverse public audiences. The new museum’s educational and exhibition spaces will open up new possibilities for our work with campus and community. In the process they’ll also create further opportunities for collaboration with the thriving arts community of the northern Berkshires. This is far more than a building. It’s the next step in Williams’ commitment to the vibrancy, relevance, and educational importance of the arts.”
With the Trustees’ approval, the building project now moves forward to a design phase, incorporating the data and analysis yielded by the programming study. The study was a rigorous and consultative exercise which gathered input from a variety of stakeholders including community members, regional partners, museum staff, students, faculty, alumni, and arts leaders. “We are deeply grateful to everyone who dedicated their time and energy to the programming study process over the past couple of years,” says WCMA’s Class of 1956 Director Pamela Franks. “Through a collective sharing of insights, expertise, and passion for both WCMA and for our wonderful arts-rich region here in the Northern Berkshires, we have progressed to this exciting juncture.”
The building project will proceed on a timeline aligning with WCMA’s centennial year of 2026-27. The new museum will be a space designed with students in mind, fostering a sense of belonging for campus members and the wider community, and an inclusive experience for all visitors. The building will offer substantial gallery space for showing more of the 15,000 works in the museum’s collection, as well as facilities for easy access to collections for student, faculty, and visiting scholar requests. It will also feature more object study classrooms, accommodating an enthusiasm for teaching and learning with objects that currently exceeds the capacity of the museum’s Rose Study Gallery. Sustainability will be a driving force in all of the design and operations decisions, as will a desire to reflect and respond to the natural beauty of the landscape in the architecture of both the interior and exterior museum spaces.
Look for more information about the museum building project on the Williams College website later this fall. For more information about WCMA’s history as well as current exhibitions and programs, please visit artmuseum.williams.edu.
About Williams College Museum of Art
The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) creates and inspires exceptional experiences with art that are integral to a liberal arts education, lifelong learning, and human connection. The Museum is a partner in nurturing the cross-disciplinary arts in support of a liberal arts education; advancing the academic and experiential preparation of arts leaders; enriching the cultural ecosystem; engaging artists; and creating a shared learning community that spurs new thinking, creative making, and civic engagement. Located on Main Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts, on the Williams College campus, the museum draws on the collaborative and multidisciplinary ethos of the surrounding college to enliven the more than 15,000 works in its growing collection. For the Fall 2021 semester, the museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit artmuseum.williams.edu.
Joellen Adae, Director of Communications, [email protected];
Rebecca Dravis, Communications Manager, [email protected]; (413) 597-3127