Norman Rockwell Museum and First Congregational Church, UCC, Stockbridge, Announce Agreement to Explore Feasibility for Adaptive Reuse of Old Stockbridge Town Hall
Museum launches initiative to renovate Old Town Hall for National Center of Illustration Research and Education
Stockbridge, MA, February 13, 2018—Norman Rockwell Museum and the First Congregational Church, UCC announced today that they have entered into an agreement that allows the Museum to conduct due diligence and explore the feasibility of acquiring the old Stockbridge Town Hall building for future Museum expansion. The building has sat vacant for 10 years, following the relocation in 2008 of the Town Offices to the old Williams High School.
The Museum’s growing need for more space derives from its expanded mission that includes the collection, study, and exhibition of illustration art not only by Rockwell, but also the full range of American illustrators. This has led to major growth in educational programming, collections, exhibitions, scholarship, and outreach to global audiences. Most of these activities now occur—under cramped conditions—in the Museum building. It is envisioned that the renovated Town Hall building could bring many of these activities together into a national center for illustration education and research, while also providing room for curatorial and collection-based initiatives. Exhibitions and public programs will continue to be held on the Museum’s main campus, in the Glendale section of Stockbridge.
Norman Rockwell Museum Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt says, “Norman Rockwell Museum is thrilled to begin the work needed to determine the viability of acquiring Stockbridge’s historic former Town Hall for use as the nation’s center for illustration education and research. Initial examination suggests that, with proper design and renovation, Town Hall is perfectly scaled to the Museum’s expansion needs. Sitting across the street from Rockwell’s first home in Stockbridge, and depicted in his famous painting Springtime in Stockbridge, Town Hall is located in the original civic and spiritual center of the town. We are deeply grateful to the First Congregational Church for entering into this agreement with the Museum, and are eager to work with them and the citizens of Stockbridge to ensure that the next phase of life for the Old Town Hall enriches the community at large. Of course, illustration is the people’s art, and it flourishes under the First Amendment as an influential form of visual expression, an anchor of our democracy.”
Deb McMenamy, Moderator of the Congregational Church and former Selectman of Stockbridge, adds, “The Church and the Town Hall have been integral to the history of this area since the founding of Stockbridge in 1739. The Church provided for the use of land by the town to construct the Meeting Hall and operational space to serve the community. We are pleased to continue to actively support our community and the broader region by bringing the Old Town Hall, also called Procter Hall, back to life as an educational and cultural center for the Berkshires. We are gratified to be actively working with the Norman Rockwell Museum to ensure that the Museum is able to fulfill its mission to serve as an important resource for both scholars and the public.”
“Norman Rockwell Museum will conduct a thorough examination of what will be needed to convert the Town Hall to fulfill the Museum’s needs and to acquire it,” noted Peter C. Williams, Chair of the Museum’s Committee on Growth and long-time member of the Town’s Historical Commission. “This will include scrutiny of the physical plant, including the ways in which it might be transformed to accommodate the Museum’s 21st-century program requirements while maintaining its historic structure, as well as the fundraising feasibility, necessary zoning, and historical and heritage approvals. During this period, the Church has kindly agreed to refrain from engaging with other parties for the sale or transfer of the building and we will be working closely with the Town and community to develop the necessary support and approvals.”
Robert Horvath, Chairman of the Rockwell Museum’s board of trustees, stated, “We are energized by the prospect of the Museum returning to its Main Street roots, which will anchor two research collections (the Museum’s and the Stockbridge Library historical research collections) on either end of historic Main Street.” Horvath also advised, “The Norman Rockwell Museum looks forward to garnering support for this project from not only the entire town, but across the country as we seek to raise the funds necessary to achieve our goal of preserving Rockwell’s archive and growing the illustration research collections. Sustainability of the Museum and its collections will always remain foremost as we work to achieve this dream.”
Daisy Rockwell, artist and granddaughter of Norman Rockwell and trustee of the Norman Rockwell Museum, notes, “I am delighted to hear the news of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Museum and the First Congregational Church Stockbridge. The Old Town Hall holds great personal significance for so many Stockbridge residents as a site of civic participation and myriad rites of passage (I cast my first vote there, at 18, and signed up for my marriage license there nine years later), and indeed, for Norman Rockwell himself. It is especially exciting that the Norman Rockwell Museum may be able to renovate and preserve the building for public use by creating a reading room and archive of both Rockwell’s work and other American illustration art that will attract both Stockbridge residents and scholars and visitors from around the world, augmenting the town’s reputation as a vibrant home for a rich artistic and historical archive.”
The Norman Rockwell Museum is a leading engine of the region’s creative economy. Its expansion project would provide new jobs for vendors and construction workers, while drawing researchers, scholars, and educators to the region from across the nation to reside in the Town during research fellowships.
The Old Town Hall
The First Congregational Church, The Old Town Hall, and the Village Green, built on land first inhabited by the Housatonic Indians, form the Town’s original civic center, beginning in pre-colonial times, and have been central to the essence of the community for 200 years. “The heart of our work as a church is to foster love, which is the bedrock of community and goodness. This partnership with the Museum makes possible the revitalization of the original center of civic life that for so long served those goals here in Stockbridge,” noted Brent Damrow, pastor of the First Congregational Church, UCC, Stockbridge. “We enter this agreement with the Norman Rockwell Museum in good faith and with high hopes that together we can fulfill the Church’s long-held goal regarding the re-use of Procter Hall, an outcome that is beneficial for the community, the town, and the church, now and in the future. Just as the Church partnered with the Town long ago to make the west end of Main Street the center of community life, we welcome this partnership with the Museum to revitalize it.”
About the First Congregational Church of Stockbridge
The First Congregational Church, UCC, Stockbridge, is a growing, vibrant, progressive Christian church with a long and distinguished history. Founded in 1734 when the Mohican people living in the area invited Rev. John Sergeant to come as pastor and teacher, the church has been a central part of the life of the area. It has enjoyed leadership from some of the most significant Christian minds, including Jonathan Edwards, who wrote his classic “Freedom of the Will” while serving as Pastor; Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the most influential 20th century theologian; and most recently Max Stackhouse, a leader in the development of the public theology movement. The Church has also been a force for forward thinking. It was the first church in the Berkshire Association of the United Church of Christ to ordain a woman, the Rev. Lois Rose; it hosted the Berkshire Institute for Theology and the Arts; is an Open and Affirming Congregation (affirming of LGBT people); and regularly hosts lectures, film screenings, concerts and community gatherings. Open seven days a week, the church serves as a place where people from the wider community mark some of life’s most profound moments, from births to weddings to memorials. With recent significant increases in membership and participation, the church looks forward to continuing to engage with the community around important matters.