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Berkshire Museum controversy warrants more reflection

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By Thursday, Aug 3, 2017 Letters 3

To the editor:

Having spent 15 years of my life immersed in the world of New York City Museums as Curator, Deputy Director and Director, I have been following the current Berkshire Museum controversy with keen interest. Because my own background has made me intimately acquainted with the ethical and leadership issues involved, I find important truths in the diversity of opinions expressed, from one pole all the way to its opposite.

With several weeks now of listening to the current conversation I find that what concerns me far more than the rightness or wrongness of the museum’s decision is the tenor of our community conversation. Colleagues, friends and neighbors seem to be lining up in the “for” or “against” lines, often with a good deal of rigidity and lack of respect for the others’ views. It seems that wherever I go these days I am asked where I stand on this issue and urging me to take a side.

Given our current political climate, it is hard to watch our wonderful Berkshire community warring so contentiously. For me, the museum’s decision is a window on how complex these issues can be, how they are rarely black and white, how there can be truth in the gray areas. We live in a community blessed with exceptional museum professionals who are grappling with this very complex situation with integrity and conscience. I, for one, as a former Corporator of the museum, hope I can put my faith in the Berkshire Museum having done its homework, heard the many important voices and views, and ultimately taking a prudent course of action that will serve both the museum’s future and the community’s vitality.

Barbara Bonner


Apart from her museum career, Barbara Bonner has served as Vice President of Bennington College and Kripalu as well as in leadership positions on ten nonprofit boards. She is also the author of two books and lives in Housatonic.

3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Lawrence Davis-Hollander says:

    Seems a bit ironical to decry the contentious of the debate and then come out with a strong message of support for one viewpoint albeit couched in polite language. What many of these paintings accomplish is that they stir the spirit and bring forth emotion. Taking them away is like killing a part of the soul. People are reacting passionately
    because they are not simply objects whose value is a rational decision based on dollars and cents. Offend me at my core and you elicit passion.

  2. Stephen Cohen says:

    A not for profit museum that possesses a collection, one donated or purchased, has an obligation to maintain that collection for the public good. If it cannot do that, it should donate that collection, or any part thereof, to a public institution which can. The only time a work should be sold is to further the collection by using the funds received to buy new art. Deascessioning should take place when the piece sold is redundant in the collection or in someway superfluous to the museums mission. This should only take place after analysis by the curatorial staff and the trustees, but never to pay operating expenses or new construction costs. The foregoing is a brief summary of the considered opinion of virtually every museum association and museum in the world. If the Berkshire Museum wishes to remove art from its mission, it should donate the paintings to local museums, and come up with a plan to go forward. This is not to cast aspersions on anyone, but the ownership of public art is a public trust.

    1. Lawrence Davis-Hollander says:


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