To the editor:
As someone who grew up in Pittsfield and Dalton and returns to the area regularly, I have many fond memories of the Berkshire Museum. I have been following with great interest and deep concern the proposal to sell the very heart of its art collection to fund a "reinvention plan."
Other letter writers and commentators have discussed many of the reasons for opposing this move. These include negative impact on the community, violation of standard museum practice, and disrespect to the artists who personally donated their works for the enjoyment of local residents. I agree with all these points, but I also believe that the works chosen for this sale would, if retained in the collection, fit very well within a "truly interdisciplinary institution based on collections related to science, history, and the arts" as described by the museum itself.
What work could better link to local history than paintings by Norman Rockwell, or national history as well as Rembrandt Peale's portrait of George Washington? Did any artist ever use science in a more profound way than Alexander Calder? Alfred Bierstadt's portrayal of the Connecticut River Valley and George Inness' Catskills landscape reflect both regional history and nature, surely a part of science. These pieces and others on the "hit list" could and should be at the center of the proposed interdisciplinary museum.
I do not oppose this vision, but if it can only be funded by selling irreplaceable works of art it is too grand. A much more modest renovation within the bounds of community and institutional fund-raising may suffice to reinvigorate the museum and improve attendance.
I certainly don't claim to know the perfect answer, but I fear that the current plan will result in community backlash and loss of traveling exhibits due to censure by other museums, which would likely reduce both donations and attendance. There must be a better way.
San Jose, Calif.