Berkshire Museum betrays public trust by sale of art collection

In her letter to the editor, Carol Diehl writes: "A museum that would sell its past cannot be trusted with creating its future."

To the editor:

Representing the cream of the Berkshire Museum’s collection, the 40 works now on their way to auction at Sotheby’s were not theirs to sell and the institution should be sued for their return. The artworks were in a public trust. By assuming nonprofit status and being associated with the Smithsonian and the American Alliance of Museums(AAM) with specific ethical guidelines that prohibit sales for any reason other than to improve the collection, donors, members, and the public had every right to expect their history was in safe hands.

berkshire_museumIn fact, the AAM and the American Association of Museum Directors wrote, in a joint statement of protest, “One of the most fundamental and longstanding principles of the museum field is that a collection is held in the public trust and must not be treated as a disposable financial asset.”

Those works, several of them purchased by the museum’s founder and others donated by the artists themselves, are not just of aesthetic value, but significant artifacts of Berkshire history that can never be replaced — their existence being the very reason the museum was founded. It is not for the current administration to monetize the museum’s greatest assets in order to pay debts they have accrued and fund their own idea of what the museum should be.

One commenter likened it to Hancock Shaker Village selling off its buildings to create a zoo because “everyone likes goats.” Funny, but sadly apt. We must take every measure to insure that the works are returned to the people of Pittsfield and the museum administration is restructured toward a more responsible outcome. A museum that would sell its past cannot be trusted with creating its future.

Carol Diehl