Berkshire Museum names new executive director

Jeff Rodgers, provost and chief operating officer of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Fla., will take the reins April 1 as executive director of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.

PITTSFIELD — After a four-month search, a new executive director has been hired to take the reins at the Berkshire Museum.

Jeff Rodgers, who serves as provost and chief operating officer of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Fla., will begin his role at the South Street museum April 1.

"The Berkshire Museum is, and must continue to be, an integral part of the Berkshire community. The Museum creates experiences that spark new thinking and new connections bridging art and history and the natural world," Rodgers said in a statement that was released by the museum Wednesday morning.

"Over the past few months I've met with leaders from across the community and came away buoyed by the spirit of cooperation in our conversations. I am eager to lead that work with a commitment to collaboration and transparency. I have a lot of listening ahead."

Rodgers, a former teacher, has more than 20 years of museum experience in Florida and New York. From 1998 to 2001, he served in a variety of roles at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, including as director of the movable museum program, before becoming executive director at the Children's Science Center in Cape Coral, Fla.

Three years later, Rodgers started at the South Florida Museum, where he led efforts to “reimagine, rebrand, and reinterpret” the natural and cultural museum, which also houses a planetarium and manatee-rehabilitation center.

“We combated the ‘been there, done that-ism’ to make sure that the museum experience is ever changing. We want people to grow with the museum so that as you come back you appreciate it in different ways,” Rodgers said about his work in Florida. “Imagine this museum captivating a pre-school student through school, and beyond, until they return as a great-grandparent with their pre-school grandchild.”

The Berkshire Museum is in the midst of its own rebranding, which has polarized the arts community.

During summer 2017, former Executive Director Van Shields announced a $66 million plan to fund the museum's “New Vision.”

Some who opposed the venture took issue with how it would be financed — through the sale of 40 pieces of art that included Norman Rockwell works.

Others expressed concern that the proposed atrium would remove historic elements of the museum's 39 South St. building, including the art deco-style Crane Room at its heart.

Shields left his position at the museum over the summer, and David Ellis has filled the position in the interim. As executive director, Shields earned $138,571. A museum spokeswoman declined to release Rodgers' salary.

The job posting for Rodgers’ position didn’t mention the “new vision,” per se, but did brief applicants on the museum's shift toward interactive programming and “a significantly expanded aquarium/living collection experience.”

With his experience overseeing daily operations for the South Florida Museum’s aquarium department, Rodgers is expected to have a lot to contribute to the living collection expansion, according to Ethan Klepetar, vice president of the museum’s board of trustees.

Rodgers garnered national media attention in 2017 when Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity, died in an accident at the aquarium. In the days that followed, Rodgers was featured in local, state and national media talking about the investigation into the death of the 69-year-old manatee and all that researchers had learned about manatees during Snooty’s lifetime.

In addition to Rodgers' decades of museum experience, Klepetar said, Berkshire Museum staff are “perhaps more than anything” looking forward to the creativity Rodgers is expected to bring to the table.

This month, the museum welcomed Bridget Rigas as its new chief engagement officer. Rigas, who will be responsible for all aspects of fund development, and oversee communications and community engagement, has over 20 years' experience in fundraising, donor engagement, and management of cultural and educational organizations, most recently as the director of development at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

"This is a key time for the Berkshire Museum. The Museum’s commitment and promise to Pittsfield, Berkshire County, and the region is stronger than ever, and I am happy to have the opportunity to work with the board, staff, and community," Rigas said in a statement.

"We are excited to dig in and work together to ensure that Zenas Crane’s vision for the museum remains a window to the world for students and visitors."

As director of development at Mass MoCA, Rigas led a development team that raised up to $4 million annually and was part of a team that raised $30 million from private support toward the renovation of Mass MoCA’s B6: Robert W. Wilson Building.

"We're just really happy to have Jeff and really looking forward to the future and all the possibilities for the Berkshire Museum," Klepetar said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.