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.
* * *
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.