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The community-based grassroots group Save the Art - Save the Museum has launched a crowdfunding campaign to stop the Berkshire Museum from selling 40 work of art currently in its collection. Photo courtesy Berkshire Museum

News Briefs: Crowdfunding campaign aims to stop Berkshire Museum art sale; Project Lead the Way grants available

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By Monday, Oct 16, 2017 News 19

Citizens’ group launches crowdfunding campaign to stop Berkshire Museum’s sale of 40 artworks

Pittsfield — Raising its bid to halt the Berkshire Museum’s plan to sell off 40 of its most important artworks including two irreplaceable Norman Rockwell paintingss donated to the museum for the people of Berkshire County by the artist himself, community-based grassroots movement Save the Art – Save the Museum announced that it has launched a GoFundMe campaign to underwrite legal action on behalf of the Berkshires’ cultural heritage. Since the account’s launch on Oct. 8, 92 donors have contributed more than $11,000.

The effort to raise a legal fund comes as the clock ticks toward the sale. The artworks, considered the crown jewels of the museum’s collection, are scheduled for auction at Sotheby’s in New York City beginning Monday, Nov. 13. Six members of the Norman Rockwell family, including his three sons and grandchildren, have spoken out against the de-accession. Laurie Norton Moffatt, executive director of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, has called for the sale to be “paused.”

Save the Art began as a spontaneous protest on social media shortly after the museum announced plans for the sale in July. It currently has more than 1,900 members on its combined Facebook pages, drawing support across the U.S. Save the Art has gathered more than 1,400 signatures on petitions sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and has generated an outpouring of letters of concern to state officials, representatives and the press, turning the matter into a state and national issue.

Save the Art believes that de-accession of the Rockwells and other masterpieces including major works by Bierstadt, Church and Calder dishonors the founders and stewards of the museum’s past and deprives future generations of their cultural inheritance. In pursuing the auction, the museum betrays its longstanding role as keeper of Berkshire cultural memory. The sale violates the public trust, flouts ethical principles broadly held in the museum community, and sets a damaging precedent for museums and cultural institutions across the nation. Rather then sending the works into private collections where they will never be seen in public again, Save the Art encourages the museum to use them as a springboard to establish itself as one of Massachusetts’ great regional museums of art, history and culture.

The core of the Berkshire Museum’s collection was first assembled for the Berkshire Athenaeum in the 19th century. In 1903, the museum was established as a separate entity funded by paper magnate Zenas Crane who invested his wealth in his community, donating the land where the museum building now stands along with numerous artworks, cultural artifacts and a substantial financial endowment. Crane actively purchased art for the museum including several of the works scheduled to be sold. The museum’s board of trustees and executive director seek to fund a radical dismantling and rebuild of the museum in a sharp departure from its mission.

The trustees have stated that the sale of the artworks will raise between $40 million and $60 million to support the museum’s new vision. Museum assertions that the sale is necessary to avert a financial crisis are widely discredited. No fewer than four separate analyses, including one by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, have found that the museum has persistently misrepresented its financial position. In addition to MCC, which supported the museum with more than $1 million in grants over the past 10 years, other major museum and cultural organizations have publicly condemned the proposed sale. Berkshire Museum was forced to withdraw its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution in the wake of the announcement.

The proposed sale has damaged the reputation of the museum and its board of trustees as well as its hometown of Pittsfield. National news organizations including the New York Times, NPR and the Los Angeles Times, have all reported on the story. On Oct. 4, the New Yorker published a comprehensive article by Felix Salmon exposing the weaknesses of the sale.

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Baker-Polito administration announces $1 million in Project Lead the Way STEM grants

Worcester — The Baker-Polito administration announced Friday the availability of $1 million in grant funding to schools that wish to adopt or expand Project Lead the Way curriculum, which is focused on applied learning in STEM subjects in grades K–12.

The One8 Foundation will provide more than $250,000 to boost the total funds available to schools to $1 million. The grant, known as the STEM High-Quality Career Pathway Capacity Grant, will support professional development for teachers and provide instructional technology and other related equipment. In March, the administration and One8 awarded $1 million to 45 schools across the Commonwealth to expand computer science, biomedical science and engineering education for students in grades K–12.

Schools can apply for the grants online.


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19 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Carl Stewart says:

    This story about the fundraising effort for the misguided attempt to halt the sale of art from the Berkshire Museum labels itself a “News Brief.” Surely the Edge editors and publisher know the difference between news and opinion. Or, perhaps not?

    And looking at a potential lawsuit: The only was a sale set for a month from now will be avoided is if a court issued a t.r.o. (temporary restraining order.). The threshold for the court in issuing a t.r.o., is a finding of a likelihood of ultimate success on the merits. The order is considered an extraordinary remedy and the plaintiffs will have a very high bar. Much better to save that money and send some deep pockets to Sotheby’s on November 13.

    1. Peter Dudek says:

      The museum is misguided in their plans.
      They should meet with the Rockwell family.
      And start taking the ethical path instead of arguing what they are doing is not illegal.

      1. Grier Horner says:

        The museum’s decision to sell its most valuable works is devastating.
        When will it’s director and board stop pretending that this sell-out is the will of the people? In their insistence that the museum has no choice but to auction its art treasures, they are shredding the public ‘s trust.
        Here’s hoping that Attorney General Maura Healey prevents the museum from making the biggest mistake in its history.

    2. Carol Diehl says:

      The Museum refuses to talk about its finances even with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which has given it over $1.5M over the last ten years. This work, which represents the history of Pittsfield and the Berkshires, will go out of public view if auctioned, as no public institution can afford to buy. This action is in lieu of proper fundraising which, if conducted now in the light of national attention, could make up for any deficits and more — as proven by the Detroit Institute of the Arts under similar circumstances. The Museum has exaggerated its circumstances and does not need to sell anything to get back on proper footing — that requires only enlightened leadership, creative programming, and energetic development.

  2. Ken Werner says:

    Carl is completely right. This is not news reporting, it’s an opinion piece.

    1. Peter Dudek says:

      So was their previous post on this subject.
      He didn’t seem to mind that.

      1. Ken Werner says:

        I missed that one. I’d have the same objection whichever point of view they were taking. Opinion is fine, but it shouldn’t be labeled as “news”.

      2. Carl Stewart says:

        Peter,

        I am not the ombudsman for The Edge. They sometimes label articles as “Opinion” or “Editorial” and that’s what should have been done in this instance. That is true regardless of which position they take.

        The director of the Berkshire Museum and the Board have several obligations and doing what the public wants them to do is only one of those. They have a primary goal of insuring the success of the museum, both financially and in accordance with its goals. Don’t guess at what the community wants for the museum based on purely anecdotal evidence. We should not determine outcomes based on who shouts the loudest.

  3. Carl Stewart says:

    Tic tock, tic, tock, tic, tock…the nearer the sale gets, the more the equities favor the museum. Opponents need to find the courthouse door pretty soon. And what about the issue of “standing?” It is a fundamental concept in the law that in order to sue, you must have it. If my piano teacher is injured in an automobile accident and can’t give me lessons, I can not sue the tortfeasor for my missed lessons. The right to seek redress for those injuries belongs to the injured teacher (and derivatively, to her family) but not to me regardless of how unhappy I am at the hiatus in my schooling. Watch out, prospective plaintiffs, for the courts doing their job. The solution to the perceived problem? Show up at Sotheby’s on November 13th with big bucks and a generous heart

    1. Carol Diehl says:

      Dream on! The only people with big bucks and generous hearts enough with $20M per item to spare are Russian and Chinese oligarchs.

    2. Peter Dudek says:

      Back to ethics Carl. We want to have the museum act in an ethical manner. By doing so they will get enough support from the community without selling the art.
      By selling the art they may be getting a bunch of cash but will have acted unethically )maybe not illegally) but will have lost a large part of their community.
      Not good.
      You can go to the sale.
      I’ll go to the protest.

    3. Lynn V. Cohen says:

      @Mr.Stewart – your misguided and fundamentally ignorant comments about this subject all but reveals palpable anger and vitriol. Yes, this process will play out and I will posit that the museum you think you know, will never be the same….with a completely new guardian, so to speak!

      1. Carl Stewart says:

        Ms. Cohen—

        You feel better now that you have engaged in ad hominem rhetoric? The vitriol is in your head…and pen, not mine

        I understand that some people, lacking the intellectual rigor to engage in reasoning, resort to insults. Doesn’t bother me; I don’t know you and don’t want to

    4. John Townes says:

      I’m no lawyer, but in my opinion, the museum IS the collection. Otherwise it’s just a damn building. The collection is Berkshire County’s physical heritage, — and caretaking of that, and using imaginative approaches to provide PUBIC access is their primary mission. The museum also can/should be the venue to bring in outside exhibits, partnerships, asn other resouieces etc. to provide programming (and educational role)…BUT the museum is also squandering that by alienating the national museum and arts community. It has thumbed its nose at the Mass Cultural Cou cil, for example, which is the state’s primary vehicle for supporting the arts and humanities in local communities…..How the hell is that going to enliven the museum in the future? ……So, in legal terms, from a non-lawyer’s perspective, the PUBLIC has standing in this, and has a full right to be involved and have a say. The museum board and staff have abridged that obligation in a fundamental sense by hatching and executing this plan in secrecy, and by refusing to engage in constructive public dialogue. .

      1. Carl Stewart says:

        John—

        There is much to be said for your views but you are, admittedly, not a lawyer. Standing is not what you think it is; it is a legal, not a moral/ethical concept and courts are bound by the rules of precedent and stare decisis. Having an interest in a subject is simply insufficient on its own to confer standing. The AG won’t step in to halt the sale nor will the courts of the Commonwealth. Am I certain about this? Of course not. I may be arrogant but not arrogant with a crystal ball. Let’s check back on the evening of November 13

    5. DB says:

      Arrogant and wrong

  4. Brian Richardson says:

    The trustees have not engaged in self-dealing and they have a sensible reason to sell some objects. The museum’s financial situation is not viable. It will not survive without decisive action. The Berkshire Museum, like most museums, has an operating deficit. Contributions and government grants cover only part of the deficit. The sale will create a much larger endowment, with enough earnings to cover the rest of the deficit. No doubt the decision to sell was unpleasant. But being willing to make such decisions is an essential part of leadership.

    With the sale, there is good reason to believe that the museum will not merely survive, but thrive. The trustees have a vision for how a brick-and-mortar museum can be relevant in the 21st century.

    What is not sensible is when others say the magic words “public interest,” sue, and delay or cut off the museum from the needed funds that a sale would generate.

    1. Peter Dudek says:

      You should read the recent post by the Mass Cultural Council. I respect their analysis.
      And why did #BerkshireMuseum board member Eric remove his comment from this thread? Was it because he said he knew that the Berkshire Eagle lies?

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