Saratoga Springs, NY (Updated: May 30, 2002) — Downside UP, a new documentary by Yaddo filmmaker Nancy Kelly that tells the story of how a contemporary art museum saved her small Massachusetts hometown, recently received its world premiere and is now showing on PBS stations across the country. A national PBS broadcast will take place in the fall.
The film traces the history of MASS MoCA (web site: www.massmoca.org), America's largest contemporary art museum, and the impoverished, working-class town of North Adams that decided its only hope for survival was within the world of contemporary art. Downside UP is an insightful look at two disparate worlds coming together for mutual benefit.
Bustling with textile and shoe mills from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, North Adams had always been an industrial town. But by the 1930s, most industry had left for cheaper pastures. That is when Sprague Electric Company took over a massive 13-acre old mill and provided half the adults in North Adams - including Ms. Kelly's parents, grandparents, and godparents - with a version of the American dream. The dream fell apart in the 1980s when Sprague closed its doors, leaving 4,000 people out of work and North Adams in a tailspin.
Downside UP documents a remarkable transformation. Starting in 1998, when MASS MoCA was under construction and 80% of downtown North Adams buildings were vacant, to the phenomenal opening of the museum in 1999, and then the incremental and dramatic improvements in the downtown, Downside UP reveals much more than the physical transformation of North Adams.
Before MASS MoCA opened, fewer than 1,000 tourists visited North Adams. Since 1999, MASS MoCA has attracted over 100,000 visitors annually. New restaurants, a $6 million inn, and high tech businesses have moved into North Adams, creating jobs and changing the town's image. Downside UP documents socioeconomic change as well as subtle changes in the spirit of the region in an intimate portrait of the tentative, dangerous nature of hope in a town that was widely viewed as hopeless. It is about working class people who must find a common ground with contemporary art world visionaries without losing their own sense of self.
Downside UP was co-produced by WMHT Schenectady and the Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff, Alberta, Canada. It was produced in association with ITVS with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding was provided by a grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.
Nancy Kelly produced and directed Thousand Pieces of Gold, the critically acclaimed American Playhouse theatrical feature film starring Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper, and the documentaries Cowgirls, broadcast by the National Geographic Explorer Program, and Sweeping Ocean Views and A Cowhand's Song, both shown on public television.
Downside UP premiered Thursday, February 7, at MASS MoCA's Hunter Center.