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An alternate vision: Retain the art in the Berkshire Museum

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By Tuesday, Oct 10, 2017 Letters 9

To the Editor:

I am writing to implore you, for the sake of Pittsfield and Berkshire County, to write letters to trustees and the state’s Attorney General, join our Save the Art Facebook page, do whatever you can to get the Berkshire Museum to pause its scheduled sale of its most valuable work so that other options can be found.

Since the Museum announced the deaccession (when the works were already in Sotheby’s hands), financial analysts have determined that the museum has exaggerated its financial need, and that no museum of this size needs a $40 million endowment. Further, because this issue has generated overwhelming local and national attention, the opportunities for fundraising are now unlimited. The Detroit Institute of the Arts, when it was threatened with closure and the city wanted to monetize its holdings to bolster city finances, was able to harness just such publicity to bring it back to solvency. If that can happen to a large museum in a bankrupt city, it can happen anywhere.

Further, there’s no evidence that a children’s science and technology museum, which would also require gutting the classic Gilded Age building, would be successful. No economic studies have been published, no one concerned has been involved in such an undertaking before, and there is no science or technology expert on the museum staff. Expensive exhibitions must be created by outside commercial concerns and refreshed every few years, and with this move on the part of the museum being castigated by museum professionals nationwide, outside funding has dried up. It could turn into a $60 million boondoggle, leaving Pittsfield not only bereft of its great art, but with an unusable building.

We love the museum and have another vision – where, instead of sending these precious artworks into private hands never to be seen in public again, they are used as a springboard to establish the Berkshire Museum as one of Massachusetts’ great regional museums of art, history, and culture. As such it will provide access to great art within walking distance to the children of Pittsfield, attract tourism, and energize the city’s economy. Such a museum would capitalize on Berkshire history, rather than destroy it.

As I write this I’m reading that these very works (our paintings!) are drawing crowds as Sotheby’s tours them through Texas, proving their drawing power if properly publicized.

What this vision will take is normal procedure for other non-profits: creative programming and energetic fundraising. Given that the museum has not engaged in a capital development campaign for almost 10 years, it should be no surprise that the coffers have dwindled.

A children’s science and technology museum can be built anywhere. Let’s not destroy a venture that has been a hundred years in the making, whose purpose from its founding has been to celebrate Pittsfield and Berkshire County’s history, inhabitants and art. Help us make this alternate vision happen.

Carol Diehl


9 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Peter Dudek says:

    The “new vision” of the Berkshire Museum is lacking in detail. What the museum has said so far is the equivalent of a Course Description. Although some students have signed up for it we are all waiting for the syllabus. It’s been several months into the semester now and all we have are fuzzy digital images and boldly vague announcements, all the while the museum refuses reporter’s requests.
    This plan must not go forward.

  2. EDWARD PELKEY says:

    The museum is willing to part with its own cultural heritage and identity at the cost of alienating its patrons, membership base, professional peer group (including the Smithsonian) without engaging in any major fundraising campaign to save the art. So much for the fund raising ability the Museum’s director was hired for. The Berkshire Museum’s false narrative of its financial crisis and omission of the prospective art sale to its own focus group are just two examples of the manner in which this public trust has lead to a great public mistrust. Pause the sale, so that Norman Rockwell’s gift to the residents and future residents of Berkshire County remains for their enjoyment and education. Our children and society in general, need more analog experience and contemplation, not digital distraction.

    1. Nate says:

      Great comment, Edward. I completely agree.

    2. Arlene Murdock says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Edward. Our legacy must be saved for future generations. Stop the sale!

  3. David R. says:

    Thank you for you letter, Carol. It would also seem that Greed occupies a prominent seat on the museum’s board.

  4. Rosemary Starace says:

    Well stated, Carol. We need accountability from our leaders in government and from the Berkshire Museum board—who hold this priceless, historic work in trust for the public. Their refusal to engage is angering, and bodes ill for the museum and the community. The most strategic thing to do at this point is pause the sale. Only good would come of that. There is no emergency.

  5. John Townes says:

    What is so tragic is that instead of an open inclusive process, the Board and management were devious and secretive….And did not consider any more reasonable alernatives before shipping the art away in the dark of night..It should have been ,positive unifying initiative for the community. But instead, it is a major black eye to Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

  6. Hope Davis says:

    Carol Diehl’s summary of this situation is sound and rational, and would lead the Museum and the Pittsfield community to a win/win situation. The fact that the Museum continues to hold out, refusing to pause the sale and come to the table for open discussion defies logic. How can this be explained, and Is there something more going on here?

  7. Jane F. Karlin, Ph.D. says:

    As a nonprofit management and fundraising professional, I could not agree more with Ms. Diehl’s letter and the supportive comments that her eloquent plea triggered. Selling one’s heritage without a sensible plan to move forward – especially a plan that includes input from diverse segments of the community – does not seems wise. Once sold, these important works of art will be lost to the community forever. Moreover, there is too little evidence that the funds that will be received in return will have a meaningful , long-term impact on the future of the Museum and its role as a community resource.

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