(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Jennifer Trainer Thompson, a key member of the team that founded and developed MASS MoCA, where she has worked for the past 28 years, has been named president and chief executive officer of Hancock Shaker Village. This brings to an end several years of quiet and unassuming leadership at the living history museum, which has struggled to right itself financially while investigating partnerships – most notably a failed merger with Berkshire Museum – as well as to clarify its mission and long-term goals.
Thompson’s appointment is an exciting development that could help Hancock Shaker Village turn a precipitous corner and right itself, given the broad and deep range of experience in the development and administration of a history-driven cultural laboratory she brings to her new position, as well as her deep and abiding ties to and understanding of the Berkshires and its cultural terrain (and its politics), which is not always easy for those brought in from outside the region to navigate (although there have been exceptions to this rule, most notably Michael Conforti, former director of the Clark Art Institute).
The appointment also presents Thompson herself with a unique opportunity: to establish herself as a visionary leader of a cultural institution on her own, out from the shadows of men she has worked alongside, including MASS MoCA visionary Thomas Krens and MASS MoCA director Joe Thompson. (No criticism of either Krens or Joe Thompson is implied or intended by this factual statement. Both have been and continue to be generous and brilliant leaders themselves.)
Thompson will assume her new role at the end of the year from her current post as senior vice president of partnerships and external affairs at MASS MoCA.
One of a small team that developed MASS MoCA beginning in 1988, Thompson has been integral to the evolution of the museum, having organized and developed several departments, including development, membership, public relations, and most recently partnerships and external affairs. As MASS MoCA’s director of development from 1988 to 2012, she helped raise some $70 million for operations and programs, including the Permanence Campaign that launched the museum’s endowment and Sol LeWitt building. More recently, she has focused on partnerships, where she worked closely with museum leadership, institutional partners, and other supporters to identify new ways to leverage an expanding network to further the museum’s core mission both regionally and nationally.
In conjunction with an annual, highly successful New York gala for MASS MoCA that she created and branded, Thompson has worked with performers ranging from David Byrne to Laurie Anderson, as well as artists such as Jenny Holzer, Darren Waterston, and others to develop unique limited-editions of their work for MASS MoCA’s benefit. Those in the Berkshires know her also as one of the models for photographer Gregory Crewdson’s work, most recently in his critically acclaimed show, “Cathedral of the Pines.”
“We are so pleased to have Jennifer join Hancock Shaker Village at this pivotal moment in its history. She has a keen understanding of the region and what is required to make a living history museum a robust, exciting place,” said Dan Cain, chairman of the Hancock Shaker board of trustees. “She is a modern-day renaissance woman who possesses the intelligence, skills, style, and a passion for art and community that will propel Hancock Shaker Village into the next decade.”
“There are few professionals in the museum world as multi-talented as Jennifer Thompson,” said Michael Conforti, former head of the Clark Art Institute and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, as well as current MASS MoCA trustee. “Her expertise from fundraising to program development has been fundamental to the remarkable success of MASS MoCA over the years and those talents will make her an extraordinary leader for Hancock Shaker Village.”
“I am honored to lead Hancock Shaker Village at this great time of opportunity and transformation,” said Thompson. “The Village is a jewel in the crown of Berkshire cultural organizations, and it is so many things: a museum, an historic village, a library, a working farm — not to mention an inspiration for innovation, design, and beauty. Tremendous opportunities exist to build upon the foundation and successes of the past, starting with the collection and the property, and identifying innovative approaches to presenting these with a special relevance to the region and today’s audiences.”
MASS MoCA board chair Hans Morris said, “On balance, this is unquestionably a gain for the cultural life of the Berkshires, but I can’t tell you how much we will miss Jennifer at MASS MoCA: I join the board and staff in launching Roman candles and in sending bouquets of flowers in deep, heartfelt gratitude for her decades of excellent and spirited service to this institution.”
Added Joseph Thompson, MASS MoCA’s director, “Those who know MASS MoCA – and Jennifer’s professional contribution to it – know that there would simply be no MASS MoCA without her. Those who know Jennifer and me personally also know that our partnership at MASS MoCA has been as profound as it could possibly be, leaving little off the field. That said, Jennifer loves new challenges: with its fascinating historical context, rich collection, and plainly beautiful architecture — to say nothing of chickens! – Hancock Shaker Village is exactly Jennifer’s kind of place, and it will be fun to watch her in action there. So, with warm affection, deep admiration, and outright awe, I wish Jennifer great things in this new phase of her professional life, and – more personally – also look forward to welcoming another great institution into the lives of our extended family.”
Thompson is the author of 22 books, including ten acclaimed cookbooks, as well as articles on design, science, art, and lifestyle that have been published in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Travel & Leisure, Omni, and Harvard Magazine.
In conjunction with her books, which range in subject from nuclear power to raising heirloom chickens, she has appeared on hundreds of talk shows, such as Good Morning America, CNN, National Public Radio, Live with Regis, and Fox News.
Thompson will replace Linda Steigleder, who concludes her term as president and CEO in December 2016 after leading Hancock Shaker Village for five years.
Centrally located in the Berkshires, at the intersection of Routes 20 and 41 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Hancock Shaker Village is a living history museum and farm. The 750-acre National Historic Landmark depicts daily life at the Shakers’ City of Peace through its 220 years. The fully restored Village includes 20 historic buildings, heirloom medicinal and vegetable gardens, 22,000 examples of authentic Shaker furniture, crafts, tools, and clothes, as well as heritage breed farm animals and hiking trails. There are tours, craft and cooking demonstrations, lectures and workshops, and a variety of activities for children and families, plus a museum store and café. An interactive audio tour is available in English, French, Italian, and German.
Hancock Shaker Village is open for fall self-guided touring from 10:00am to 5:00pm daily through Sunday, October 30, 2016. Beginning on Monday, October 31 and continuing through Wednesday, November 23, guided tours will be offered daily at 11:00am, with additional tours at 2:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, call 800.817.1137 or visit Hancock Shaker Village.