MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art)
Joseph C. Thompson spearheaded the creation of MASS MoCA - the largest center for contemporary and performing arts in the United States - from its inception in 1987 through the present. Thompson began lobbying for the formation of the center when the project was first proposed, and was appointed founding director of MASS MoCA at the time the initial plan was approved by the Massachusetts legislature in 1988.
During design development and the private fund-raising stage of the project, Thompson expanded the institution from its initial mission as a fixed depot for the display of contemporary visual works, to an active center encompassing all forms of visual and performing arts. His vision of MASS MoCA as an open laboratory for both artists and visitors has led to the creation of an institution unparalleled in this country.
In the 18 years he has served as Director, Thompson has directed the development of the architectural program for the 13-acre campus of 19th-century factory buildings; articulated the institution's far-ranging artistic program; and built the center's staff, board, and governing structure. Simultaneously, he led the efforts to raise some $65 million in public and private funds that have built and operated MASS MoCA since its inception.
Thompson has sparked and nurtured many of the projects developed as part of MASS MoCA's evolution and site-testing, including Desire, the first solo exhibition of the visual art of David Byrne; the Clocktower Project, a permanent sound art installation by Christina Kubisch; and EarMarks, an exhibition of seven site-specific sound art installations in Northern Berkshire County. He has co-organized many of MASS MoCA's major exhibitions since opening in 1999 and was the curator for the monumental installation by Robert Wilson, 14 Stations. Under Thompson's directorship, MASS MoCA built two indoor and two outdoor performing arts venues plus supporting rehearsal and laboratory space, and MASS MoCA has become a major presenter of dance, theater, music, and film. The performing arts program ranges from presentations of new work - such as the Builders Association's Jet Lag, Philip Glass' Shorts, and Rinde Eckert's And God Created Great Whales - to artist-in-residencies and workshops that have included Laurie Anderson, David Dorfman, Shirin Neshat, Mabou Mines, and the Urban Bush Women. Indeed, MASS MoCA has become one of the nation's premier venues for incubating new works of art: Since opening, 45 new visual arts commissions have been realized at MASS MoCA, and over 50 new works of theater, dance, and music have been created or shaped there. In all, Thompson has overseen the development and production of over 500 exhibitions and over 300 performing arts events and residencies since MASS MoCA opened. He has also developed and marketed over 70,000 SF of the facility as commercial lease space, an innovative real estate-based endowment that now provides some 18% of the museum's annual budget.
Under Thompson's leadership, MASS MoCA has become a catalyst for economic revitalization in western Massachusetts, adding over 800 jobs and $23 million per year in economic impact to the region.
Thompson's 20-year career in the arts spans museums and academia. Beginning in 1982, he served for three years as preparator and exhibitions designer at the Williams College Museum of Art, and in 1984 was awarded a residency at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, as the James Webb Fellow for excellence in the management of cultural institutions. From 1988 to 1990, he held the post of lecturer in contemporary art at Williams College and the University of Pennsylvania.
A 1981 graduate of Williams College, Thompson received an MA in art history in 1986 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was named an Annenberg Fellow. He earned an MBA from the Wharton School of Business in 1987, along with the Morganthau Fellowship in recognition of his work in public policy and management. He has co-authored several books, including Refigured Painting and MASS MoCA: From Mill to Museum.
Thompson's awards include: Williams College Bicentennial Medal (given to distinguished alumni) (1999); honorary doctorate from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (1999); Governor's Leadership Award at the 13th annual Massachusetts Governor's Conference on Travel & Tourism (2000); and Commonwealth Award winner from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (2003). His committees and boards include: executive committee of Art Omi; Berkshire Compact for Higher Education; Berkshire Council for Growth; Berkshire Regional Competitiveness Council (appointed by Governor Mitt Romney); Berkshire Visitors Bureau Strategic Cultural Committee; Campaign for Cultural Facilities statewide steering committee; MIT Campus Development Advisory Committee; New England Council's Creative Economy Council; Northern Tier Initiative (appointed by Congressman John Olver); and Williams College Museum of Art's Visiting Committee.
MASS MoCA's awards under Thompson's directorship include: Honor Award for Architecture from the American Institute of Architects (2000); Charles W. Elliot II Award (preservation award honoring exceptional vision & excellence in planning) from Historic Massachusetts (2000); New Commonwealth Medal (in recognition of achievement in creating economic prosperity) from MassINC (2002); National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (2000); preservation award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (2000); and the Phoenix Award for conservation & preservation from the Society of American Travel Writers (2002).
Thompson lives in Williamstown with his wife and two children.