In his first Annual Fund appeal as Berkshire Museum executive director, Jeff Rodgers had to navigate a narrow gauntlet. (" Newly flush Berkshire Museum seeks public help," Eagle, Dec. 8).
Asking for money is a tumultuous enough river to ford without the churning waters of an inherited public relations nightmare following a controversial art sell-off. Rodgers' appeal letter — and the resultant backlash from expected parties — neatly encapsulated the Herculean labor with which he's been tasked as the Berkshire Museum's new leader: Build rapport with a community that, in some corners, feels deeply betrayed by the dragged-out deaccession fight — and by the way, would you mind helping us reignite fundraising after a $53 million cash injection stemming from the whole messy affair?
"This has been," Rodgers wrote with considerable understatement, "anything but a typical year."
The Berkshire Eagle Editorial Board ultimately opposed the deaccessioning. Critics of the art sale are right to hold museum officials' feet to the fire with regard to trustees' pledge last year to "transparently, cooperatively, and thoughtfully ... regain public trust." One should be wary, however, of a reactionary instinct to respond with ire to even the mention of fundraising efforts — even if, all things considered, it could be perceived as a less-than-good look.
Save the Art, a citizens group among the museum's fiercest detractors, reacted sharply to the appeal letter. "There is no clarity around the annual operating budget, deployment of the endowment, and why fundraising remains vital to the Museum's future with $53 million in the bank."
The desire for budgetary transparency is perfectly reasonable and arguably necessary, but it should be clear why fundraising is still to be prioritized. Difficult as it is to swallow, the art sale is done and can no longer be litigated. Regardless of one's stance on it, presumably the worst possible endgame would be for the museum to take its foot off the gas on fundraising, potentially leaving the door open to further existential crises down the line, even after the roiling dispossession of the deaccession process.
Barring a scorched-earth dismissal of the Berkshire Museum's remaining inventory, those understandably wounded by the loss of artwork might do well to recognize fundraising as a neutral effort to preserve the remainder. (And it's not necessarily the case that as an endowment waxes fundraising must wane — just ask Harvard.)
Rodgers and the rest of museum leadership certainly have their work cut out for them to rebuild and retain that level of good faith. Rodgers told The Eagle that he has informally engaged with some members of the community, a tack he believes has moved the needle in the right direction. To that end, we wish him luck and hope he is correct; perhaps Save the Art's urging of more public and organized engagement would prove helpful.
An ostensible bright spot has also recently emerged: An unidentified local art collector has reportedly offered to donate hundreds of works collectively valued at more than $1 million. Through a sufficiently optimistic lens, it could be seen as a chance at a new beginning — one with the potential to heal old wounds.