Berkshire Museum backers seek to accentuate the positive with social media page

Community Support for the Berkshire Museum aims to balance out critical online forum

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PITTSFIELD — The co-creator of an online forum supporting the Berkshire Museum concedes the institution's critics might get more online traffic, as they bemoan art sales and plan rallies.

Except for an occasional zinger of her own, Darcie Sosa is content to accentuate the positive on the Facebook page she started in December, now called Community Support for the Berkshire Museum.

"It's not a popularity thing for me," Sosa said. "I just want to hear about the museum without the negativity. Without feeling bombarded."

Six months in, the page she and Jennibeth Gomez moderate has attracted roughly 250 likes, below the 1,100 listed for Save the Art-Save the Museum, the citizens group that formed after museum trustees announced plans in July 2017 to sell up to 40 works from its collection.

Sosa, 35, said she grew up in Pittsfield attending museum events and remains devoted to the place.

Though the page bills itself as independent of the museum, Sosa is a member of the museum's Galaxy Committee, which is planning a July 27 fundraiser. And until 2013, Gomez worked there as a digital media marketing manager.

On Facebook, the site states this reason to be: "A page started by local community members who support the Berkshire Museum and its efforts create a 21st-century institution with the financial stability to sustain and strengthen the Museum into the future. This is a place to support and receive information on supporting the Museum. We are not affiliated with the Museum or its Board."

A box with capital letters at the top of the page says: "SUPPORT THE NEW VISION," a reference to the museum master's plan, which calls for a new interactive approach to exhibitions.

Sosa said in an interview Tuesday that she posts to the site based on her own preferences for information and commentary, not the museum's. "This isn't the Berkshire Museum speaking," Sosa said.

She sees the page more as bulletin board than sounding board, hoping to make sure interesting events at the museum aren't lost in the fog of debate. Recent posts include mentions of the Science in the Summer program and a reception for glass artist Josh Simpson on Saturday.

"I'm afraid some of that will be drowned out," Sosa said.

That mission, she feels, distinguishes her page from the Save the Art-Save the Museum effort.

"You're influencing people rather than just giving them information," Sosa said of the other group's page.

While declaring itself open to all, prospective posts for Community Support for the Berkshire Museum are first reviewed by Sosa or Gomez. Visitors who click "about" on the page learn that "all negative or inflammatory posts will be removed and repeat offenders will be blocked."

"We let people from Save the Art come on as long as they weren't too negative," she said.

The page has allowed comments critical of people or institutions not perceived to be museum supporters.

When the Save the Art group announced July 2 that it had erected its first billboard on Route 7 near Guido's Fresh Marketplace, Sosa decided to comment on the expense involved. The large, red billboard questions the museum's pledges of "transparency" and lists a Twitter hashtag: #berkshiremuseumwatch.

On July 3, Sosa wrote: "[W]ell ... a $2,000 billboard seems a bit excessive (and could have made a great donation to the many nonprofits in the Berkshires) we agree with the messaging! Please do keep watching as the Berkshire Museum moves forward and continues to serve our community for generations to come. Viva la Berkshire Museum."

"I know it's a little snarky," Sosa said of that post. But she said that, as someone who works with nonprofit agencies in marketing, she saw better uses for the money.

Her post critical of the billboard drew 84 "likes," including from at least three trustees, as well as four comments.

Harry Park, a public program specialist at the museum, replied to the post: "Imagine all the things local organizations could've done to help our community with that $2,000 ... "

"It shows there are people out there who wanted it," Sosa said of the page.

The post about the billboard followed one in which the page expressed thanks to Van Shields, the museum's executive director, who announced his retirement June 28.

"Thank you for all that you've done for the Berkshire Museum and all the well wishes to Van Shield as he settles into all the joys retirement can bring," a post that day said. "... Congratulations to Nina Garlington on her new role as Chief of Staff. We look forward to the Museum's new chapter!"

Sosa said she got to know Shields while volunteering at the museum. "I loved Van. I think he was a great director," she said.

Asked to name what she likes most about the museum, Sosa suggested it is the people who gather for opening nights, parties and events. "It's just a space for everyone to meet."

But she also fondly recalls geode exhibits with black lights, from her youth.

"I'll miss the glow rocks, but it's time to move on," she said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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