To the editor:
The trustees of the Berkshire Museum have announced plans to sell art works from the museum's collection to revitalize the institution and fund operational expenses. We understand that, as prices for art rise, there is growing temptation to sell these works when there are bills to pay. Selling works of art is a difficult —and agonizing— decision. If you accept that the choice was to close the museum or sell the art, you might agree with that decision. But what if the museum doesn't have to choose between selling art and surviving? Are there other options that can still be explored? The answer is yes.
Difficult financial problems do not have easy solutions. That said, museums across the country — in cities big and small — have faced struggles as severe (or worse) than the Berkshire Museum and have found better solutions. The trustees, staff, donors, and citizens decided that the heart of their museums — their collections — were worth protecting.
Even during the Great Depression, American cities and American people believed that great cultural institutions made a city great. They believed in the enduring principle that "the museum is there to save the collection; the collection is not there to save the museum."
Are the Trustees of the Berkshire Museum truly living up to their responsibilities as trustees have at other museums? We say no. There are numerous examples of museums, which in the face of similar issues, rose to the occasion and decided — with trustees, staff, and community members all working together — that their collections were worth protecting. Solutions other than the sale of works of art were found to solve the significant problems these institutions faced.
Why, we ask, hasn't the Berkshire Museum made clear its financial challenges to the public rather than cloaking the sale of its greatest treasures as part of a grand "reinvention?" Why not try again to garner greater public support before cutting out the heart to cure the patient?
We offer these thoughts in hopes that, with encouragement from the local community, the Berkshire Museum will pause for further consideration. The cultural legacy of a community is too important to shortcut public discussion of the implications of this proposed sale and to ignore vital questions about the process.
We stand ready to support this review and reiterate our offer to explore other solutions to the Berkshire Museum's challenges.
Laura L. Lott,
Lori Fogarty is director and CEO, Oakland Museum of California, AAMD President. Laura L. Lott is president and CEO, American Alliance of Museums.
New York, N.Y.