Since 1926, the Williams College Museum of Art has been housed in Lawrence Hall, a majestic brick building atop a hill on campus, originally built as a library in 1846.
âInterestingly, there have been many additions to the spaces that have been used as a museum over the years, the most recent in the 1980s: the addition of Charles Moore. So it’s not really recent, it’s quite a while ago now. And the museum program and collection have grown considerably since then, âsaid museum director Pamela Franks. âA few years ago it was decided that if there was to be a new Williams College Museum of Art building, it would be on the site of the old Williams Inn.
Until its demolition last year, the Williams Inn stood at the north end of a roundabout where route two and route seven intersect around a park with a replica of a colonial house in 1753. Since then, the land adjacent to the town hall has remained empty, invaded by brush.
âSo the news is that we’ve been exploring this possibility for a few years,â Franks said. âAnd now we’re moving to the design phase. So it’s super exciting that we can have a new university museum on this site on the corner of Seven and Two.
With the plans in place, Franks says the real work begins when the college asks stakeholders about how best to design an art museum that will meet the needs of the community.
âWe are very fortunate in Williams, and in this region, to have the museum’s collection, which is global in scope,â she told WAMC. “And it’s also quite remarkable, and the way it covers the history from antiquity to the present day. So it’s a very large core collection, and we have almost 15,000 works. So we want to being able to show more. So a big part of this project is about that. Thinking about what a new museum building will offer as we go along, we want to think about how a building can be designed to show. art in the most efficient way. To make it look its best. But we also think programmatically about how spaces are suitable for classrooms for student engagement, for informal connections, so that students can decide what they want to do in the spaces. Likewise, we wanted to be very welcoming to the public, and to all our audiences. We want the museum to be a real bridge between the campus and the community, which it is is programmatic, but I think that it will be even more so in a new space.
As the design phase has just begun, Franks would like the new structure to have a clear relationship to the natural setting of Williamstown.
“One thing that is really evident, since the hostel has come down, is that the scenery is so beautiful, there are beautiful views in all directions, there is a really clear relationship with the campus, there is has a really clear relationship to the city, there is a really clear relationship to the landscape, “said the director.” So everything we build on this site will be a beautiful home for art and for collection, and also a really appropriate supplement to the specific location.
While planning work for the next iteration of the museum is underway, the proposed timeline aims to take an important milestone.
“I think this is also a historic moment in another way, as the Williams College Museum of Art is approaching its centenary in 2026, and we will be celebrating this 100th anniversary for the full academic year of 2026-2027,” said Franks told WAMC. “And so the schedule for a new museum building lines up really well with that.”
Throughout the design and construction process, the doors to the museum will remain open in his last century home at Lawrence Hall.
In the original broadcast of this story, Franks was identified as a Williams College graduate. It is not, and this has been corrected.