Berkshire Museum: Simple philosophy for success



39 South St., Pittsfield.

(413) 443-7171;

Year-round facility that uses art, history, and natural science to spark creativity and innovative thinking.

Hours: Open year-round, except July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Admission: $13 for adults, $6 for children.


• Gift shop

• Little Cinema theater

• Crane Room for special events

Low-cost or free admission highlights:

• Adult lecture series.

• Kitchen-Kaboom.

• Wee Muse, early learners program.

• Mysteries of Making Art.


1. The museum has approximately 50,000 items on display or in storage.

2. It engages 16,000 learning experiences per year.

3. Museum founder Zenas Crane funded the 1909 North Pole expedition of Admiral Robert E. Peary Sr.

The Berkshire Museum has a simple philosophy for success: Continuity.

Museum executive director Van Shields says the 110-year-old cultural institution must regularly offer programs and events beyond the headline-grabbing exhibits if it's to remain educationally relevant to the community.

"You can't have an adult lecture series one week a year," Shields said. "You must offer them on a continuous basis."

From the monthly Kitchen-Kaboom series to quarterly special events under Wee Muse, the pre-school learning program, Shields and his staff find such activities are starting to help boost attendance at the museum.

"All our trend lines are up from the fall of last year," he said.

And museum programming that engages the community must be offered at the convenience of mom, dad and the kids, not just during regular business hours.

Last November, 420 men, women and children from all walks of life attended the museum's After Hours -- a pajama party to promote early-childhood education, a soon-to-be regularly scheduled event, according to Shields.

He added the museum can also act as a neutral meeting place to discuss the pros and cons of the areas pressing and/or controversial issues such as the viability of wind turbines as an alternate energy source in the Berkshires.

Scott Kirchner is computer guy by day, constantly working with the latest technology. The co-owner of Mad Macs, a computer company in Pittsfield, understands the importance of laptops and iPads in business and education.

Kirchner, along with his wife Bonnie Hoskeer Kirchner, also values hands-on learning; a main reason the Lanesborough couple and their two daughters, Isla, 4 and Layla, almost 2, regularly visit the Berkshire Museum.

"Some things you just can't experience through technology," he said. "The museum is about the touch, the site, the smell."

Hoskeer Kirchner added the museum's exhibits and interactive programs are a reality check for her girls.

"They can learn what a real turkey looks like, not what's on their plate," she said.

This summer, Isla plans to expand her intellect as the pre-schooler has enrolled in the museum's theater and nature camps.

"She's a very outgoing person," said the girl's father. "She's like a sponge; soaking everything up."

Overall the Kirchners hope the 110-year-old museum remains on South Street and a key part of their children's education.

"I love that space, it has a lot of character," said Hoskeer Kirchner.


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