Letter: Museum must keep its three key ingredients
I share the following observations and recommendations with the aim of offering Van Shields and the Board of Trustees of the Berkshire Museum a constructive suggestion.
The Berkshire Museum enjoys a rare opportunity to provide true leadership in the museum field if it redoubles the pursuit of its original mission. It faces the strong likelihood of failure if it follows its intentions to deaccession treasures from its art collection in order to narrow its focus to science and history.
The special recipe for the Berkshire Museum has long comprised three chief ingredients: art, history, and natural history. This combination can now place it in the vanguard of American museums. The Berkshire Museum offers exactly what our citizens require for life in the 21st century: encouragements for creativity through interdisciplinary programing. We need to think AND look critically; we need to use description AND allusion; and we need to study the past AND construct the future. To do this, we need to emphasize the skills associated with science AND art. That is the path to innovation.
The museum's signature programs have long been based on these ideas presented in ways that are both meaningful and fun. Time to focus on math? Cue the M. C. Escher show. In need of richer multi-cultural understanding in our community? Bring on the contemporary Native American art. After a deeper appreciation for the plight of butterflies? Host a show of paintings, sculptures, and video art along with a real butterfly house. The museum's character has shined the brightest by combining all three areas.
At core the Berkshire Museum's problem is not a failed mission, but a lack of funding. We should not confuse these two. It is the mission that offers the path to solvency. Here's why: some very smart people have been working for many years now to add Art into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics initiatives (think MIT and Stanford University for example), changing STEM into the clever acronym STEAM. They see synergy as the hope for the future — and so do philanthropists. Foundations and individuals alike look to leverage financial support to effect positive social change.
The Berkshire Museum has always been a STEAM institution with a real claim to effective programing doing just that. To remove the art portion of the museum is to take a giant leap backwards; to boldly reassert the original mission offers untold potential.
John R. Stomberg,
The writer is the Virginia Rice Kelsey 1961s director, Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College.
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