Letter: Important questions to ask the Berkshire Museum

Posted

To the editor:

I am a retired, longtime curator at the Clark Art Institute and a former resident of Berkshire County, volunteer at the Berkshire Museum, and member of its Collections Committee. I directed two museums, the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover and the New York Historical Society. I would like to ask the Berkshire Museum these questions:

Is there a written strategic plan covering the reinvention of the museum? Will the museum make this plan public?

Who did the museum use as consultants? Are contracts with the consultants contingent on the project moving from conception to design to construction?

What is the philanthropic commitment of the board of trustees? Normally, in a comprehensive fundraising campaign, at least a third of the target comes from the board. What percentage of the project's total costs is projected to be covered from board giving and from selling art? How much financial "skin in the game" does the board have?

Did the museum get competitive bids from other auction houses, or was Sotheby's the only auction house consulted? The normal seller's cost in auctioning art is 10 percent of the hammer price.

Has the museum negotiated a better seller's deal since it is a not-for-profit?

Were any outside art historians or curators consulted on the historical importance of the paintings slotted for sale?

What are the basic infrastructure needs of the existing building? What is left to do to preserve it?

What is the long term financial plan? Assuming the changes happen, does the projected endowment growth cover new costs, including hiring more people and utilities? Does the financial model project increased attendance and rely on increased revenue from admissions?

By the way, these projections are never reliable. They are usually inflated. Does the board of trustees guarantee that art sales money go first to the endowment and debt relief? The worst thing the museum can do is spend for bells and whistles and then not have the endowment to pay for the new costs. As in all things, "the devil's in the details." Maybe the changes will be good. They are radical changes.

Given the history of the museum, which features many boom and bust cycles, a full airing best serves everyone. The museum is a precious cultural asset. Everyone needs to feel confident that we're getting sound planning and good thinking and not adventurism.

Brian T. Allen

Arlington, Vt.


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