Lessons from St. Petersburg about the Berkshire Museum
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 is an artists’ agent and gallery owner. She has had galleries in Lenox, Pittsfield and North Adams at MASS MoCA.