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Berkshire Museum should honor donor intent, support public trust

By Wednesday, Oct 25, 2017 Letters 14

To the Editor:

We, the petitioners, stand by the stated intent of founder, Zenas Crane, and the many donors to the Berkshire Museum over its history. Crane established the Museum as “an institution to aid in promoting for the people of Berkshire County and the general public the study of art, natural science, the culture history of mankind…” In doing so, Crane donated the building, the land and a place for OUR permanent collection.

We stand with those who support “Save the Art – Save the Museum” and have taken public steps to stop the Berkshire Museum’s intended sale of its most valuable works. These institutions and individuals include:

  • The Rockwell family (Jarvis, Thomas, Peter, Barnaby, Geoffrey, John, Margaret)
  • The Massachusetts Cultural Council (“strongly opposes the plan as a violation of the Museum’s public trust”)
  • The Smithsonian Institution (who cancelled their affiliation with the Museum)
  • The American Alliance of Museums, (AAM), President & CEO, Lori Lott
  • The Association of Art Museum Directors, Lori Fogarty, President (and CEO, Oakland Museum of California)
  • Dan Monroe, President and CEO, The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass. and former AAM President
  • Stephen Sheppard, Professor of Economics, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.
  • E. J. Johnson, Professor of Art Emeritus, Williams College, Williamstown, Mass.

We represent 200 + (and growing daily), who have donated to our community education and legal funding efforts through the GoFundMe site (https://www.gofundme.com/savetheartsavethemuseumv) and the 25 others who donated privately.

We represent 2,100 signed petitioners and reflect the voices of the more than 2,000 active followers on two Save the Art Facebook pages. These include Pittsfield and Berkshire County residents and visitors, as well as artists, arts professionals, museum lovers, and concerned citizens throughout the U.S. and abroad who have strong ties to the Berkshires.

No fewer than four financial experts have agreed that the Museum’s need is not dire as claimed. We therefore advocate vigorous fundraising instead of liquidating the collection. In addition, we oppose the Museum board’s sale of art because it threatens the integrity of ALL museums. Disposing of long-standing gifts to fund basic operations, renovation and expansion violates the code of ethics of museum governance and undermines the meaning and purpose of the public trust. It breaches the intent of donors who made their gifts for public benefit, and does not reflect the interests of the community, whose voices have been deflected by Museum leadership since this divisive plan was announced.

In recognition of its significance, our story has been covered sympathetically by national and regional media including the New Yorker, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and NPR.

We invite the public to join our demonstration in front of the Berkshire Museum to “Save the Art” on Saturday, October 28th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

Sharon Gregory, Great Barrington, on behalf of “Save the Art — Save the Museum” and its supporters.