[Stairs, “The Boiler House,” MA MoCA]
In the early 90’s, because the adult learning center where I worked had received a federal grant, I began teaching in what we’d called homeless shelters back then. And as stipulated in that grant, every quarter, all the Massachusetts programs receiving that same grant’s personnel were required to meet. So I’d dutifully shuffle off to Worcester or Roxbury or, once, to North Adams, a hellish drive—where, we were told by a local activist, amazing and wondrous things were about to happen. A modern art museum, to be housed in one of North Adam’s long-abandoned factories, was in the planning stage. This massive and exciting undertaking, he predicted, would have an enormous, positive impact on that post-industrial city’s economics. And, therefore, he’d intimated, the struggling, unhoused people of North Adams would benefit.
Oh so long ago, did I snort at his preposterous words? Did I mutter, “Yeah, right!” I’d like to think so. But the truth is, I’d probably experienced that small, vague, subtle, uneasy stop I can only now, decades later, acknowledge; identify. It’s the same stop I now pay attention to as I reread a passage I have just “finished,” for example. “Something’s missing,” I realize. Or “Something’s not right.”
Had I experienced the horrifying gentrification happening right now in my own post-industrial, aging New England city neighborhood, my disbelief at that activist’s naive and patently wrong predictions would have been well-informed—and vocal! But I had yet to live that clarifying experience. I had yet to more fully understand that them that has, gets.
But here’s the thing: Saturday I visited MA MoCA for the first time and after taking a brief moment to acknowledge the younger me who only saw through a glass, darkly, fell in love with the museum’s rusted, industrial aesthetic, its enormous and expansive spaces. I loved all of it. But especially The Boiler House and Kelli Rae Adams’ “Forever in Your Debt.”
Will my admission fee, what I paid for a delicious, hand-squeezed lemonade or the lovely gifts I bought in MA MoCA’s gift shop “trickle down”? No. Am I uplifted, moved, inspired from that experience? Yes. Will my experience somehow inform my ministry? I’d like to think so.