Berkshire Museum reaffirms support for leader, planned art sale

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Editor's note: This story has been updated.

PITTSFIELD — In the midst of ongoing concerns about its plan to sell off 40 works of art, the Berkshire Museum has released a public statement reaffirming its commitment to the plan — and its leadership.

"The Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum are unanimous in their support for Executive Director Van Shields," read the statement, which was first published to the museum's Facebook page Sunday afternoon. "We are excited about our New Vision plan, which will ensure that we are able to enrich our community for generations to come."

The statement came a day after dozens of people gathered in Park Square to protest the planned sale of the art, which includes two Norman Rockwell paintings personally gifted to the museum by the artist. And it came hours after The Eagle published a story that raised questions about Shields' unsuccessful effort to transform a regional museum in South Carolina prior to his tenure here.

The Berkshire Museum leadership in July announced a proposed $60 million reinvention, which called for the creation of at least a $40 million endowment and an extensive renovation of the South Street museum and a new emphasis on science and history as a way to ensure its future. The plan would be funded by the sale of 40 of the museum's prized artworks, estimated to fetch at least $50 million at Sotheby's.

That decision has received support from many in the community who see the sale as a necessary sacrifice in order to preserve the 114-year-old institution. But it also has been panned by Berkshire residents and many in the art community who believe that selling off works for such purposes runs counter to long-held museum principles.

The statement was offered by museum spokeswoman Carol Bosco Baumann on behalf of board President Elizabeth "Buzz" McGraw. Bosco Baumann told The Eagle that Shields would not be issuing a statement.

The Eagle made efforts on Monday to reach out to the 24 trustees for their response to their leader's past plan, but many either could not be reached or deferred to Baumann.

Trustee C. Jeffrey Cook declined comment, and Trustee Mike Addy said Baumann is the best person to speak with "so that the message you're receiving is exactly correct."

Addy declined requests for a response to the revelations about Shields' South Carolina experiences, implying he'd already known about them.

Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.


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