Scupture on the grounds ofThe Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, Mass.
Nairy Baghramian’s “Knee and Elbow” at The Clark’s current outdoor sculpture exhibit, "Ground/work." Photo: Thomas Clark

PERSPECTIVES: The summer cultural season returns

Our first peek at the return of the Berkshire summer season.

Author’s Note: This article was authored in collaboration with 1Berkshire’s Vice President of Tourism and Marketing Lindsey Schmid and Senior Marketing Specialist Elizabeth Nelson. 

It has been said that the cultural economy is the economy in the Berkshires. It is the engine that brings visitors and money to the Berkshires to support the cultural institutions, hotels and other lodging establishments, restaurants, and shops.

This time of year is about rebirth, even more so since COVID forced many of us into a form of vigilant hibernation through winter and much of last year. As the days lengthen, the weather warms, and signs of new life emerge, our region begins to plan for a busy summer season, which presents an opportunity to ensure that visitors and residents alike realize all that is unfurling in their Berkshire backyard.

Last year, our annual reawakening required fertile innovation and dug-in perseverance. Even as we saw outdoor recreation take center stage — with first-time day-trippers discovering the Berkshires’ lush green spaces — our performing arts faced stringent restrictions and our cultural and historical institutions had to navigate complicated guidelines. Yet despite the myriad challenges, both globally and locally, our community found ways to grow and even bloom.

Visitors enjoy live music by Wanda Houston on the grounds of The Mount in Lenox, Mass.
Visitors enjoy live music by Wanda Houston on the grounds of The Mount. Photo: Sarah Kenyon

What does this mean for summer in the Berkshires? What did we learn last year that will influence the upcoming season?

Primarily, with the arrival of the vaccine, we can expect to welcome back our legacy visitors who will be more likely to return for their beloved Berkshire vacation. Due to the outdoor-seeking influx of new visitors last year, we predict that they, too, will return to continue their discovery of our region. Research has shown that once successfully enticed into visiting the Berkshires, our family-friendly downtowns, varied outdoor recreation assets, world-class culture, farm-fresh cuisine, and hospitable lodging inspire repeat visitation. At 1Berkshire, we are optimistic that this summer, despite being an anomaly compared to summers past, will flourish.

The promising signs of reawakening have already begun to show themselves in positive announcements from Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow, both planning a revival of live performances. In their wake a number of creative lineups — many of which will be performed beneath outdoor tents and altered theaters — unfold from Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Theatre Group, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and Shakespeare & Company, which has been building a new 500-seat amphitheater on its sprawling campus.

Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. is open now for visitors.
A family picnics on the grounds of Tanglewood in Lenox. Photo: Regina Burgio

Outside of the performing arts many of our museums and historic sites are poised to re-envision their programming and use of venues, including inventive ways to utilize outdoor spaces. MASS MoCA is slated to open a community engagement space along with a new immersive light installation by James Turrell called “Skyspace.” Music fans can already purchase tickets to MoCA’s popular fall festival, “FreshGrass.” A sculpture exhibition entitled “Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne: Nature Transformed” will be installed in the Conforti Pavilion in the Clark Center of the Clark Art Institute, expanding outdoor viewing alongside their popular Ground/work show. Beginning in July, families visiting the Norman Rockwell Museum can explore fantastical outdoor sculpture as part of “Land of Enchantment,” an experience focused on mythology and fairy tales. The Rockwell is also planning a scavenger hunt-themed gala throughout their grounds. The Berkshire Museum, which has been renovating its second floor, plans to reopen more fully this summer with new installations while continuing their robust online programming.

A photo from the 2020 performance of Godspell at Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, Mass.
Berkshire Theatre Group’s ‘Godspell’ was one of the highlights from last summer’s performing arts season. Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

Berkshire Botanical Garden is poised to offer more than 50 events, workshops, and classes online, with a return to daily in-person tours this June; “Taking Flight” is the theme for their upcoming exhibits and events. Chesterwood is focused on partnerships, planning programs in collaboration with IS183 Art School, Berkshire Pulse, and Berkshire Camino. The Bidwell House, currently in the planning stages for a reenactment weekend and other live events slated for late summer and fall, has curated a self-guided tour of their Native American Interpretive Trail, which tells part of the story of the Mohican Nation and their relationship with the land. The lush grounds of The Mount will remain open and free of charge to the public. Self-guided tours of Edith Wharton’s home, a summer sculpture show, live music, and the winter return of NightWood are all in the works.

The grounds at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Mass., are perfect for strolling.
The beautiful grounds of Chesterwood in Stockbridge provide a perfect outdoor space for strolling and gathering safely for outdoor events. Photo: Ogden Gigli

This fall, many cultural organizations will participate in ArtWeek Berkshires. The event will span September 16-26, and details are still being determined, so stay tuned for information about street festivals, live outdoor performances, and open studios presenting in tandem to celebrate the rich creativity and artistic expression in our region. Also, most of our cultural entities will expand their programming into the fall, providing an extended season of exploration for visitors.

Photo of part of the exhibit "How to Move a Landscape" at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass.
Museum-goers have ample room to explore MASS MoCA’s galleries, housing such exhibits as “How to Move a Landscape” by Blane De St. Croix. Photo: Elizabeth Nelson

As residents of the Berkshires and promoters of our region’s economy, everyone at 1Berkshire is excited to witness such an abundance of activity and offerings from these organizations and many others. We look forward to traveling from town to town to enjoy an al fresco meal on a pivoted patio (a trend many of us hope will stick) and then taking in a show under the stars. Our recommendation is to make your reservations early and book your tickets in advance. Be sure to check individual location’s websites for guidelines before venturing out and remember to remain diligent in social distancing and masking. We all share the responsibility to follow and enforce public health guidelines to ensure that locals and visitors alike can continue to venture into the sunny, burgeoning days ahead.

The Norman Rockwell Museum offers an interesting exhibit on the Four Freedoms
A patron enjoying a recent exhibit at The Norman Rockwell Museum. Photo: Elizabeth Nelson.

Summers in the Berkshires do not disappoint and this year, perhaps more than ever before, is ripe for savoring.