Letter: Don't rob Peter just to pay Paul
The June proposal presented by the Berkshire Museum Board of Trustees conflates two different issues. First, the sale of the most valuable of its art collection to address threats of financial collapse, and second, its conversion to a science museum. Many museums have faced difficult transformations and emerged successfully. Here are two we can learn from.
Through the merger of two museums, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Mass., was formed. Under the current CEO, PEM grew an operating budget from $3.4 million, the size of the Berkshire Museum's, to $30 million. It is now one of the top 18 art museums in the nation. The Oakland Museum of California represents the merger of three institutions: the Oakland Public Museum, Oakland Art Gallery and a Museum of Natural History. Planning began long before 2002 when the residents of Oakland voted by more than 75 percent to support the bond to fund the museum's transformation. It opened with great success in 2010.
Both museums hold diverse collections and strongly support children's programs with art as the backbone, much like ours. But these changes were not funded through the sale of their collections. Likewise, the "New Vision" at the Berkshire Museum should not be predicated on selling its "crown jewels." There are other solutions if this community would work toward a common goal, including running a broad capital campaign of $5 to $10 million across the region. Having studied its 12 year financial history, I firmly believe the museum can harness such support amidst the public outcry to retain the region's rich heritage.
Regarding the second question, should a children's science museum be created in Pittsfield? Why not? An appropriate site should be selected with ample parking and easy public access. The museum was created for the broad public, beyond Pittsfield and Berkshire County, but since some politicians say that people outside Pittsfield do not count, then a $20 million city bond should fund the project. However, the veracity of the museum's market research of 400 people needs to be verified.
We should not divest the collection to address financial shortfalls. We should value our history. We should come together in respectful dialogue and plan a viable future for our cultural assets, including the art we hold so dear.
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