Letter: Museum chooses future, owes nothing to past

Posted
To the editor:

I have read with interest the announcement of the Berkshire Museum's strategic plan, including the sale of cherished paintings. For me, both as a parent and former finance committee member these are two different issues.

It has been clear for years that the museum lacked a true focal point, neither distinguishing itself in art nor with a science/innovation specialty. Choosing one path that is not well represented in our community makes sense. We are blessed with excellent art museums already. Most art lovers don't know that too many art museums are in danger of failing (the average art museum in the U.S. spends $55 per visitor, yet only generates $8 in revenue — AAMD, 2015), mediocre ones especially.

Real leadership in any capacity takes courage. In business it means facing reality, being intellectually honest with respect to one's market position and, after careful analysis, taking aggressive action to put the organization in a stronger position for the future. This is the fiduciary responsibility any leader has to his/her stakeholders.

For the Berkshire Museum board and leadership, their situation is made more complex as an organization with a responsibility to the public and our community today. I believe they owe nothing to the past. This board has acted decisively after pursuing a comprehensive review of its options and engaging with many members of our community. After careful deliberation, it is pursuing the only path that provides a reasonable chance at reestablishing itself as a thought leader and beacon for education and enlightenment in our community.

We should all keep in mind that the Berkshire Museum stands alone in representing our year-round community first, not day-trippers, tourists and second-home owners. It is a mission that is unique in filling a crucial gap in education and "onboarding" our children to the richness of museums in our society and their lives. With respect to our more famous museums, they don't appeal to most children (or visitors' grandchildren) the same way.

History favors innovation and action and punishes those who rest on legacy. Ask Ford or Kmart and their former stakeholders. My only criticism is that the Berkshire Museum didn't act five years ago. Not acting today would likely result in the museum following the path of GE or KB Toys, leaving town or shutting down. That would be the real shame.

Brendan Burns,

Richmond




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