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Backgrounder/Director's Statement

In the summer of l998, my Uncle Bud and I took a "hard hat tour" of the enormous abandoned Sprague Electric compound – 28 buildings thrown catywampus over 18 acres – which was being converted to America's largest museum of contemporary art. MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) had been funded by a hard-won $35 million dollar economic development grant from the state. It was supposed to attract tourists to North Adams.

Feeling a little ridiculous in cartoon-colored hard hats, Uncle Bud and I walked through the dust and rubble, trying to imagine galleries, a cafØ, a performance space. We were the only North Adams natives in our tour group, the others were from New York, Connecticut. Was our factory town already becoming a tourist attraction? The tour guide, a Williams College student, read from index cards. "In l984, when Sprague Electric closed its doors for good, 4,000 people – half the adults in North Adams – were left without jobs." I almost started to cry. Why?

When the decline happened, I was old enough to experience it but too young to understand. And I was hurt that the job of telling the story of our once vibrant, now down-and-out town had been reduced to a student reading from index cards. Travelling back to California a couple of days after the Hard Hat Tour, all I could think about was that museum. How could it be possible that tens of thousands of tourists would flock to the post industrial wasteland North Adams had become? To see contemporary art? It seemed crazy, impossible. But I knew from personal experience how over the past ten years, the Jesse Helms of this world had viciously attacked art as a waste. So if art could do some good in North Adams, as a filmmaker, I wanted the world to know.