Berkshire Museum brings in new PR staff amid expansion plan outcry

Carol Bosco Baumann

Editor's note: This article was updated on July 31, 2017, to clarify that when the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute worked with Resnicow-Schroeder, of which Fred Schroeder was a partner. Schroeder now runs his own firm, Schroeder Arts Consulting LLC.

PITTSFIELD — Now under the national spotlight, the Berkshire Museum is working with two outside consultants to help communicate with the public about its $60 million "reinvention plan."

Carol Bosco Baumann, an independent communications consultant based in Housatonic, was hired late last week to help the museum field questions related to that plan, which relies on funds to be raised through the sale of artworks.

"I have been hired to complement the work that has been done in light of the [museum's] new plans," Baumann said.

And a second consultant also has been working with the museum for the past eight months, The Eagle has learned.

Earlier this month, the Berkshire Museum announced plans to auction 40 works of art as it shifts its focus to science and natural history programming. The sale of the works, which include paintings by Norman Rockwell, Alexander Calder and Frederic Edwin Church, would help the museum bolster its endowment by $40 million and to fund a $20 million renovation.

Van Shields, the museum's executive director, and its board of trustees designed the plan to reinvigorate its finances, which have been lacking for years, and help it to attract 21st century audiences.

People, locally and nationally, have spoken for and against its plans, which have received coverage from The New York Times, The Boston Globe and National Public Radio, among others.

Baumann was hired at the end of last week and will work for "at least a month" to help the museum respond to the numerous press inquiries about the plans, she said.

Lesley Ann Beck, senior communications manager for the museum, has been shifted to day-to-day communications needs, Baumann said.

"The point of consultants is to support, not replace, in-house staff in moments of institutional change," she said.

In addition, Fred Schroeder, principal at Schroeder Arts Consulting LLC, has worked for the museum for the past eight months, Baumann confirmed. His role is "consultative," she said.

Schroeder, with offices in New York's Hudson Valley and Manhattan, advises clients on a range of areas, including "strategic planning, marketing and communications, and program development and project management," according to its website.

He is no stranger to the Berkshires.

Both the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown are among the cultural institutions here that have hired Schroeder in the past. Schroeder, who was a partner at Resnicow-Schroeder at the time he wored with the Clark Art,  now runs his own firm, Schroeder Arts Consulting LLC.

Sources said museums often hire additional help when launching large initiatives.

Communications departments at many area museums are small and frequently handle marketing, advertising, and press queries, said Vicki Saltzman, director of communications at the Clark.

"There is a lot to be done," Saltzman said. "It is quite common in the museum world when you have a big undertaking to hire outside help."

Saltzman said the Clark most recently worked with a communications consultant in 2014 when the museum reopened an expanded and renovated campus.

The Berkshire Museum's plans attracted regional and national press coverage last week when two professional museum organizations called on it to reconsider plans to sell the 40 works of art to fund an endowment and renovation. They said doing so is a breach of its code of ethics, and offered to help it develop alternative plans.

A third organization has since come out in opposition to the plan.

Shields has said the museum board chose the museum's financial health over the ethics guidelines set by national museum organizations.

Public support of the museum's plans, developed over two years with input from more than 400 community members, has been "overwhelming," Shields has said.

Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, is the most prominent local art world figure to speak publicly in favor of the Berkshire Museum's plans.

Another well-known member of the county's cultural community falls on the other side of the issue.

Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, is among those locally who have asked the museum to pause its plans, and investigate alternative ways to strengthen its finances.

Shields has said the museum welcomes the feedback, but does not plan to change its course.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.