Letter: Museum scapegoats community in code
As a child, field trips to the Berkshire Museum instilled in me a lifetime love for and an appreciation of great art in a setting that created a space for me to find that beauty. I gained a sense of the world beyond Pittsfield, and my connection to it.
That being said, I think it's important to deconstruct the coded language being used in the conversation around the Berkshire Museum sell off of 40 works of art. We have heard that "changing demographics" dictate the need to reprioritize the mission of this museum in order to protect its survival. It has been stated as absolute fact that this current community cannot possibly support and/or sustain the museum as it has existed historically.
The message underlying the "changing demographics" literally translates to the implication that poor people, elderly people and people of color cannot possibly have an appreciation for these beautiful works of art. If that fundamental assumption were true, Kids 4 Harmony would not have successfully performed alongside Emmanuel Ax recently. Thank goodness for the vision of Berkshire Children & Families and the late Carolyn Burns for showing us what is possible.
Sadly, the more common experience is that decision-makers across this community — from boards, to elected officials, to professionals in positions of power who are overwhelmingly white/upper middle class — continue, as a general rule, to cynically undervalue and dismiss the citizens of our community due to their "demographics". They still bemoan the scorched earth of GE's aftermath, and the poverty of spirit that lingers 20 years later. In this case, the conclusion the museum board has come to is why bother to even try to save the current mission of this institution? These priceless works of art will be much more appreciated somewhere else. A small community museum just isn't the appropriate location for them. Wow.
There are generations of successful individuals whose souls and spirits were molded in myriad positive ways as they wandered through the museum, who have gone out into the world yet cherish their Berkshire roots. This is a direct result of the vision of Zenas Crane and even Norman Rockwell as they made their generous contributions to this community museum.
I believe if a well-publicized campaign to save this museum with a reasonable and realistic set of goals and expectations was mounted, it could succeed. But even if it doesn't and the leadership decides to continue its current path, it should take ownership of its vision in a more transparent manner and stop scapegoating the "community" with coded language that reflects bigotry and narrow-mindedness.
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