To the editor:
As a childhood visitor, former staff member, and donor to the Berkshire Museum, I am distressed to see the list of the 40 best and most important works of art in its collection being sold to fund a building project and operations. I encourage people who support this beloved and remarkable museum and its exciting new project to take a close look at the list of artworks on the auction block and consider that they may leave Pittsfield, and likely the public eye, forever.
Over the decades, there have been times when some voices would have privileged the visual arts over the great natural history collections based on the preferences of tourists or donors. Certainly the delightful dioramas of "The World in Miniature" were wildly out of fashion more than once. Yet wiser heads prevailed to cherish all aspects of the Berkshire Museum's mission. It is the melding of art, history and science that gives the Berkshire Museum its special character.
If the motivation to dispose of these works by Bierstadt, Calder, Church, and others is indeed the well-intentioned plan to refocus the museum on science and history, the only ethical use of the funds from their sale would be for acquisitions and direct care of the collection as redefined. To do otherwise is to treat the diverse treasures that the museum holds in public trust for future generations as a piggy bank.
Let us not pit art against science: The American Alliance of Museums members include hundreds of science museums, zoos, botanical gardens, history museums, and children's museums whose staff and volunteers care as deeply for the collections with which they are entrusted as any art museum curator.
As former director of marketing at the Berkshire Museum and a nonprofit museum worker for more than 20 years, I am well aware of the financial challenges that it and many museums face. As a result I fear that if there is not the donor funding and the will to fundraise for a project, there will not be funding to support it once it is complete. A campaign in which less than 20 percent of the funds needed are to come from fundraising is unlikely to succeed.
I am inspired by the community-focused process that resulted in the Berkshire Museum's new vision. I urge the board, donors and community of the Berkshire Museum to get behind this dynamic reinvention by energetically giving and raising the money it takes to do it. If this truly meets the needs of the community and has its enthusiastic support — as certainly seems to be the case — then the funding will follow. If not, no amount of selling of art will solve the problem.