In letter to Berkshire Museum, artists group asks them to reconsider selling off works

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PITTSFIELD — More than 20 people in the county's arts community have signed on to a letter urging the Berkshire Museum to halt its plan to sell 40 works of art to fund an expansion and an endowment.

The list of artworks, released Monday, includes those by American painters Norman Rockwell, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Dewing. The museum hopes the sale will net $50 million of the $60 million it needs to support its plans announced earlier this month.

"As artists and members of the cultural economy of the Berkshires, we know firsthand the impact that the visual arts has on our community," reads a letter obtained Monday by The Eagle. "We would like to invite the leadership of the museum to meet with us and discuss how we might work together to create a stronger future for the Berkshire Museum."

The letter, signed by 22 artists, educators and arts professionals as of Monday, will be sent Tuesday to board of trustees President Elizabeth McGraw and Van Shields, the executive director of the museum, according to gallery owner Leslie Ferrin.

A Facebook group, "Save the Art at the Berkshire Museum of Natural History and Art," has also been launched connected to the effort.

It appears unlikely a meeting would help change the museum's position.

"The board has voted to deaccession the works and make them available for sale," Lesley Ann Beck, senior communications manager wrote in an emailed response. "The board is not considering reversing its direction."

The museum's board of trustees voted last week in favor of a pending auction with Sotheby's. Shields has said its plans will create long-term financial stability and allow the museum to better serve the community.

The museum will place a heightened emphasis on science and natural history. The artworks it selected to sell, the complete list of which was disclosed Monday, no longer align with that, Shields has said.

Earlier this month, the museum announced a $60 million initiative that is contingent upon the sale of the 40 artworks. The plan includes adding $40 million to its endowment and a $20 million renovation of its South Street building.

The letter criticized that approach.

"We propose that the leadership of the museum think of these works of art not as a disposable asset but as a means to strengthen the mission and future vision of the museum," it reads.

The letter comes on the heels of comments by Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum, who suggested the Berkshire Museum leadership "pause" its plans and instead open up a broad public discussion about alternatives to an art auction.

Shields said the museum has had considerable support for the decision and its plans.

"The vision for how the museum can best serve Pittsfield and the Berkshires is a reflection of the wishes of the community that surrounds us," Shields said in a written statement. "By aligning our vision to community needs today, we will ensure the museum continues its century-long track record of success as a vital cultural and educational resource for Pittsfield and Berkshire County."

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.


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