To the editor:
I want to extend my congratulations and thanks to Van Shields and the trustees of the Berkshire Museum for their exciting plan to renovate the museum and allow it to remain as one of Berkshire County's top cultural destinations for years to come.
They spent two years speaking to a cross-section of county business, cultural and political leaders and members of the general public to learn what the museum meant to them and the role they would like to see it play over the coming decades. Their plan and strategy resulted from these meetings and interviews.
I'm sure this was not an easy decision by the board of trustees. But as was explained, the museum is faced with operating deficits of more than $1 million annually despite ongoing fundraising and very successful wine auctions. They know that local philanthropic giving is limited and that the changing demographics of the county mean that large locally funded capital drives of the past are now unrealistic.
The Berkshire Museum has adapted itself over the years to try to stay relevant and is faced now with developing a plan to ensure its long-term viability. Through its education programs, it offers free or greatly reduced admission fees to over 25,000 children a year. And it wants to do more for those children and their parents, especially those on lower incomes who cannot afford the many cultural attractions our county offers.
The plan to sell some works of art to establish a permanent endowment will allow the museum to make major renovations to its building and offer even more programs for families and adults for years to come. Yes, it would be wonderful to use the proceeds of the art sale to buy new artwork to hang on the museum walls. But if the doors to the museum end up shuttered, there will be no walls to hang that artwork on.
This is a compromise, but in my opinion a good one that will benefit future generations of residents of all income levels. The Berkshires are changing in many ways and this is a sound step by the Berkshire Museum to adapt to that reality.