Berkshire Museum trustees impervious to criticism, deaf to alternatives

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By Wednesday, Sep 13 Letters  7 Comments

To the Editor:

I read with amusement the September 10 Letter to the Editor from the Berkshire Museum, “signed” by the “Berkshire Museum Board of Trustees”.
The Berkshire Museum has sent off the works of Norman Rockwell (and others) to be auctioned off to pay bills and for construction costs. In spite of the fact that the Rockwell family is against the sale, the museum is plowing ahead.
As I read the letter (a fine piece of PR fluff if ever there was one) I wondered why it was in the Berkshire Edge instead of the Berkshire Eagle? Maybe it was because in a recent meeting I had with Museum Director Van Shields and Board Member Bill Hines, Mr. Shields called an article in the Eagle an “attack”! Perhaps it was because Bill Hines implied that the Eagle structured articles to make the museum look bad. And maybe it is because I was repeatedly told that “you can’t believe everything you read in the paper”.
This is about a paper that the community cheered when it came back to local ownership, and this is the paper that initially gave the museum’s “new vision” a rave review!
And when I mentioned that even Joe Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA, suggested that the “new vision” should not include gutting the museum, Van said “Joe Thompson is entitled to his opinion.”
This is the Joe Thompson who wrote a column in the Eagle that was a huge endorsement for the museum to sell their art and enhance their endowment, yet when he strayed from course and did not endorse the entire plan, well then his words became just another opinion.
The museum has hardened itself against any criticism. No one can sway them. Welcome to the new museum.
On July 27 a Letter to the Editor was published in the Berkshire Eagle. It was against the museum’s “new vision” and at the bottom of the letter over four dozen residents of Berkshire County attached their actual names.
That is how to sign a letter.

Peter Dudek


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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Stephen L. Cohen says:

    The plan to sell the art is reprehensible for its contempt for the community, the donors, and its violation of the standards for museums around the world. The Smithsonian’s withdrawal from its relationship with the museum shows what a pariah the museum has become, and what its future will be like in the museum world. The details reported of how the decision to sell its patrimony was made shows that candor and community-support were the farthest thing from management’s mind. The concept of “monetizing” its assets flies in the face of all the standards for curators and other museum professionals. What they are monetizing is the core of a museum, its collections.
    It is so sad that this board and director seem set on driving the institution over a cliff, with no attempt being made to find alternative solutions.

  2. Linda says:

    The Berkshire Eagle’s Sunday story about Van Shields was generous toward Shields. I am sure they were attempting to be fair and balanced which must have been tough to do! Read more in the South Carolina and North Carolina papers. His South Carolina failure of a museum talked about in the Eagle hardly hit the tip of the iceberg for what is to be told about Van Shields in South Carolina. Search further: Childrens’ museum controversies; Hightower problems; fundraising question; spending questions; money transfers; pubic relations nightmares; forensic audits; lawsuits; court ordered mediations and subsequent settlement agreement. What about the future reputations of the Culture and Heritage Museum, Culture and Heritage Foundation, Cherokee and other firms that got tangled up with Van Shields and his plans. And what about all those employees who wouldn’t be “team players?” What about the hundreds of acres of land that was given by a generous patron? Did he have any regard for that? What happened to all the proceeds? Was the money obtained from the sale spent wisely? Need I go on?

      1. Linda says:

        You are welcome! Unless all the following are all free of charge, the money drain has begun: Two consultants to handle the response to the outrage; an attorney to handle the “monetizing” and “deaccessioning” plans; the “New Focus” special retreats to hash out the details; the “Focus Group” research teams; the gutting of the museum and new design plans; the architectural drawings and renderings; the public relations plan; and probably, the packing and shipping costs of the treasures to be auctioned! Maybe they should just paint the walls, hang the art, bring in some docents, have some nice events and cut the director’s pay!

    1. Fan says:

      Such bilious hatred. So sad. So ignorant.

  3. Florence Mason says:

    To stop the museum we need money. We need lawyers and we need money. Contact the Ma. Attorney General, Maura Healey,b to issue an injunction to stop the Sotheby’s auction. Point to the fact that the 40 art works going into private collections will never be seen again in this world. Point to mismanagement and questionable financing. Point out nontransparancy, secret actions, disposing of the paintings before the trustees even voted on the sale. We know this is all impeachable, so to speak . But only the law can do this now. We need go fundraise.

  4. Leonard Quart says:

    A museum’s main function should be to display the best of art and artifacts, not act as an interactive theater.
    Yes, all museums are now conscious that they must attract as large a portion of the public as possible, but it can be done without betraying its prime goal, or it should shut its doors.

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