Rachel Chanoff, the curator of performing arts and film since the museum’s inception, described Mr. Thompson’s “reckless optimist” approach as, “‘Let’s make it the cultural living room of this community. Let’s have dance parties, let’s have picnics, let’s have cooking lessons.’”
Mass MoCA has, indeed, become an important anchor in the area, with close relationships to its fellow institutions, namely the Clark and the Williams College Museum of Art. “The Clark gave about $5 million dollars or more to Mass MoCA, which is very unusual in light of the more typical competition,” said Michael Conforti, the Clark’s former director, who is a trustee emeritus of Mass MoCA. “We need to help one another.”
Other institutions have modeled themselves after Mass MoCA, like Dia Beacon, which was opened by Mr. Govan; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas; and the Armory and the Shed in New York. “Mass MoCA has certainly been an influence for me in developing Watermill,” said the avant-garde artist Robert Wilson, referring to the arts complex he founded on Long Island in 1992.
What is next for Mr. Thompson? Mr. Krens suggested that he might have a role for him in the ambitious new cultural corridor he is creating in North Adams, which features a railroad and architecture museum.
Of course, Mr. Thompson could see this moment as an opportunity to relax, to fly his small airplane or ride his road bike. He is still facing the stress of a trial on charges stemming from a 2018 collision with a motorcyclist, to which he has pleaded not guilty and said is unrelated to his departure.
Tracy Moore, the deputy director, is serving as interim director and chief executive while the museum looks to replace Mr. Thompson, who will stay on through next summer as an adviser.