Letter: Museum success hinges on local buy-in
This letter has been modified to remove incorrect information about a building being for sale.
To the editor:
Recent developments at the Berkshire Museum fill me with alternating enthusiasm and dismay. The vision for a new 21st-century institution is exciting, but the cost — loss of a significant number of artworks — is excessive.
Unfortunately, this topic has fallen victim to hyperbole, both pro and con, that besets much of our world today. What has been missing is a broad-based, dispassionate dialogue between the museum and the wider community. Significant questions have to be asked and seriously considered: What is the purpose of the Berkshire Museum? Who are its likely patrons? Can the current building serve the goals of the museum? What is needed in terms of staffing? Where will future financial support come from? Unlike other cultural institutions in Berkshire County, the Berkshire Museum has an essentially local, not national or international, appeal. I don't see how this will change, even with the "new vision."
Whatever happens, the museum cannot be just a warehouse of artifacts; it must be a venue where patrons can view significant objects and be educated about them in a vibrant way. It needs to be a cultural magnet. Yes, it should strive to bring in people from outside the area, but it must realize that it needs to energize the people of Pittsfield and the Berkshires. People need reasons to keep patronizing the museum. Past programs have been successful: special exhibits, film series,concerts, and children's camps. These need to be expanded upon.
The museum's new vision is exciting, but also troubling. Much of the building will apparently be torn out. Is this the best use of this historic structure? Admittedly, more space is needed, but the museum is landlocked. Can other buildings nearby be acquired?
The Sept. 17 Eagle featured those art works that will be auctioned to fund the new vision. I was astounded at how many I had never seen displayed. Apparently, a lack of guards and docents necessary to properly protect and interpret them kept them in storage. Whatever becomes of the museum, adequate staffing must be provided. The collection must be properly displayed and interpreted for the public, and the message has to be gotten out that the museum is there and that it's worth visiting and supporting.
All this takes money. One path has been put forward for raising it. Revenue from these auctions won't last forever. Fundraising will continue to be an issue. Unless the museum succeeds in winning buy-in from the local community, it will have to revisit its finances down the road. Unfortunately, given the controversy over the current plan and the way it was developed and presented to the public, the museum will continue to face a long and difficult challenge.
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