The Berkshire Museum's decision to sell artworks from its storied collection to fund a $20 million expansion and to boost its endowment by $40 million was controversial enough on its face. However, the museum leadership's subsequent tone-deafness regarding public response to the decision — as well as its secrecy on the topic — is needlessly turning well-meaning opposition into an ever-hardening core of protest.
Supporters call the move to deaccession 40 valuable works of art, including those of Rockwell, Bierstadt, Church, Calder and others, "bold" and necessary to guarantee the museum's future. The Eagle has endorsed this basic concept. Experts in the museum and art fields have weighed in questioning the ethics of spending monies raised from sales of a museum's art to fund renovations, an endowment, and a redesign of its core mission rather than to acquire other works. Residents of the Berkshires — both year-round and seasonal — have decried the raiding of the area's patrimony and the risk of losing the works to private collections.
These are legitimate takes on a topic of such consequence to the community, and they deserve to be debated and reconciled in a public forum amid an atmosphere of transparency and full knowledge of the relevant facts.
The problem is that the director and board members of the Berkshire Museum, in spite of having retained the services of a top-flight New York public relations firm, have handled the roll-out of their plan in a way that encourages opposition rather than support, and even nourishes the growth of conspiracy theories. Despite repeated requests by The Eagle and other interested parties, they have declined to furnish the answers to important questions that would help inform public discourse. Among them:
Why deny access to the museum's profit/loss statements for the past two years?
What is the current location of the art in question?
When and where are the auctions scheduled to take place?
What are the museum's future financial projections?
What are its attendance figures?
Who are the 400 individuals consulted during the conception of this plan?
Who attended the June 12 board of trustees meeting where the move was voted upon?
Where is the actual physical report and study laying out the details of this plan?
These are reasonable requests, and the proper response to them is not to hire yet another public relations consultant or trumpet wishful claims that the community overwhelmingly supports the selloff decision — both of which the museum has resorted to.
If the director and board truly believe in the validity of the institution's revamped mission and the methods used to realize it, then they can only help their cause by letting the sun shine on their efforts. Thus, they can forgo a lengthening debate eroding a trust that could jeopardize future community support.
The Eagle hopes they will see that light and be forthcoming, for the good of the Berkshire Museum and all who cherish its legacy