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Lessons from St. Petersburg about the Berkshire Museum

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By Wednesday, Apr 4, 2018 Letters 10

To the editor:

This is a post from St. Petersburg, Russia. During the siege of Leningrad during WWII, millions died and the majority of one of the greatest museums of the world, the Hermitage was nearly destroyed. The people and food supplies were bombed, starvation incurred and war surrounded the city but despite this, while their treasures stolen and destroyed, their collections buildings raided, they were not conquered by Hitler or Napoleon. Forgive me if I don’t have all the facts perfectly but this story told by the tour guides still brings tears to their eyes and their words struggle while emotions are caught in their throats.

I am traveling with German-Americans and working with Europeans — they have not forgotten. They all remember their parents stories, speak of their grandparents direct experience and stand proudly in these rooms that still show evidence of destruction. The restoration is remarkable. There is such pride and devotion to their history and their love of culture, objects, paintings and their architecture. It is the lifeblood of their “cultural tourism” and “creative economy”.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED: Despite the continuing destruction of cultural artifacts in war, ongoing now by our own and other forces in the Middle East and the world — the citizens, the everyday people who care for these objects, the proud residents of these cities — would never willfully allow the removal of cultural heritage purely in exchange for money, let alone to install touch screens or pay for public education programs to supplement failing schools.

What has happened to our community? Why would the board of trustees of the Berkshire Museum agree and why would our laws allow them to sell the artistic heritage of the Berkshires? What gives these individuals the right — without even asking the membership, the community — to spend thousands on a legal challenge to find a work-around to public trust? What has our community come to that a set of people, without conferring with art professionals, be allowed to send the collection to auction, the collection built on generosity and philanthropy, and trade the foundation of the museum, betray the intentions of the gifts, the charter, in process, destroy the trust and forego responsibility of preservation of the very best our community has to offer itself and its visitors, in exchange for a plan to install touch screens and make undefined architectural changes to a historic building?

If the Berkshire Museum succeeds in selling their finest artworks, what can we say? The rest of the world fights for freedom of speech, cultural heritage, regional identity, but somehow our community has given over power to a board who has decided to toss it away.

If the people of St. Petersburg and so many other war torn regions fight to keep their art, architecture and culture in tact — what is happening to us in the Berkshires?

THIS POST —  Submitted after a day at the Hermitage — one of the greatest, world class museums, in a city that works hard, struggles to preserve and share with the world, its priceless collection — despite past and current, political and economic challenges.

This is why it’s important to SAVE THE ART — SAVE THE MUSEUM — from St. Petersburg, Russia.

Leslie Ferrin

Cummington

Leslie Ferrin is an artists’ agent and gallery owner. She has had galleries in Lenox, Pittsfield and North Adams at MASS MoCA.



10 Comments   Add Comment

  1. SC says:

    Let’s be real. Our American culture is much younger and our particular local economy is hurting. We have sold out more than those two Rockwells, you know it from the housing and employment situation in South County.

  2. Peter Dudek says:

    There are 38 art works in addition to the two Rockwell paintings that the museum is trying to sell, for a total of 40. At least for now. Who knows how many more will disappear by the time this board of trustees is finished.

  3. ASK says:

    My favorite part of the museum is the recent temporary exhibits. That’s what brings me to the museum. Not the old stuff. The Asian exhibit and the guitar exhibit.

    1. Laura says:

      I agree with you. I haven’t been to the museum in over 10 years because it’s the same stuff, I like to look at new things too.

  4. Ann Getsinger says:

    The letter writer has it so right. This misguided board has created a real mess, a heart-breaking situation, and now stands firm In the wrong direction, creating a cultural disaster, trading soulful treasures for temporary trinkets. We need to all work together to bring life back to the museum without sacrificing its soul.

  5. Christopher Owen says:

    This opinion or comment if you wish is addressed to all, but especially to “SC”, “Ask”, and” Laura” above.
    To SC, yes perhaps our local economy is hurting, but I fail to see the connection to The Berkshire Museum. If the Board was made up of the appropriate professionals, had been forthright from the outset in committed themselves to fund raising and publicity rather than none at all. Had they drawn the obvious conclusion that The Berkshires’ with its many art museums thrive due a population of artists, art lovers, and the thousands of equally interested visitors in the many outstanding cultural activities available, and acted accordingly
    the Museum would be thriving.
    TO “ASK” referring to the “old stuff” hardly deserves a comment. When the Museum’s unique art collection is referred to as “old stuff” it’s clear you are ignorant beyond belief. Personally I derive and enjoy, as do countless others, frequent visits to museums. One can never tire of great art . Think, if you can, about the next generation, perhaps your children. Are they to grow up being told: No, that “was old stuff” It was sold years ago. So much for the next generation. It’s called dumbing down! Would you sell all “the old stuff”
    in ALL museums??? Think, if you’re capable, and bear in mind The Berkshire Museum does have temporary and frequently excellent exhibits not to mention often better films to be seen!
    TO “LAURA” You haven’t been to the Museum in 10 years??? I hesitate to think of the number of temporary exhibits you’ve missed, and how many films and lectures as well. Nobody is forcing you to see, as you also call it “the (same) stuff”. Leave it to the art lovers. I’m sorry for all three of you, very sorry.

    1. Michael Cosby says:

      Good comments C.
      Michael Cosby

      1. Diego G. says:

        Chris… you are SO spot on. Of course, the dysfunction starts at the top (the Board) – the museum has always had a bit of a ‘stuffy” air about it – regardless of their great temporary shows. The whole situation is like grandchildren (the public) who never visit their aging grandparents because they are ‘old stuff (fashioned)’, until they get sick or not able to manage their life, then the parents are forced to rummage thru and sell the family jewels/heirlooms (the art work) in order to “save” them – loosing the family legacy in the meantime.

  6. William Cameron says:

    I agree with everything the author of this piece says save for her use of ‘failing’ to characterize the schools whose students use the Berkshire Museum educationally. The term is gratuitously insulting and irrelevant. What does the success or failure, however Ms. Ferrin determines it, of schools involved in the Museum’s programs have to do with her otherwise sound argument about the peddling of the region’s artistic patrimony by the Museum’s trustees?

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