To the editor:
I recently received a request to renew my membership at the Berkshire Museum. The leaflet stated, "Our Mission: Bringing people together for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking by making inspiring educational connections among art, history, and natural science." I am not sure what this muddle of words means, but I am sure that the museum will be able to educate people about the connection between stripping a museum of its art and making money. I don't think this is the kind of innovative and creative thinking we should be promoting.
The new vision described on the website states: "The mission of the museum stays the same, and fine art remains an important part." Except all the really fine art will be gone. Perhaps they will exhibit digital images of it.
Over the past few months we received lots of communication from the co-directors of the museum: the chief experience officer, and the chief engagement officer — not from a curator of science, or a curator of art. These new positions sound more suitable for Disney World, or maybe a Kafka play, than for a reputable museum.
The website talks about an operating deficit of about $1 million per year. That doesn't seem like a huge amount for a county with many residents with resources. If there are people willing to pay $55 million to grab the art there are probably some who will pay a small fraction of that to keep the art.
I have been a member of the museum for six years and never saw any sign of aggressive fundraising. It is the board's and executive's job to do the hard work of soliciting grants and looking for patrons, rather than finding ways and excuses to cash in on former patrons' generosity. About that $55 million — how many millions will Sotheby's and others associated with the sale get? How much is being wasted on seller's fees, buyer's fees, catalog and exhibit costs? None of that will be helping the museum.
As for the museum's "new vision" for multimedia education: the last thing our youth need is more time spent looking at screens, interacting by pushing buttons or speaking to computer/robots and being treated to superficial infotainment. What our kids need is more time observing real objects of art; more pigment and fewer pixels; more making contacts with people and less making contacts on push buttons. My observations as a teacher and scout leader are that spending time in virtual reality saps initiative and reduces the ability of young people to distinguish between the real and the fictitious.
The few worthwhile changes vaguely described in the new vision discussed on the website would not cost anywhere near $55 million. In contrast, the conceptual drawings I saw posted at the museum show lots of empty space and architecture reminiscent of shopping center food courts. Enhancing the aquarium, setting up a few rooms where people could actually build things or perform experiments and hiring some dedicated presenters would be far more effective and require a lot less money than creating yet another soon-to-be-outmoded electronic environment.