Berkshire Museum recharges with five new trustees

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PITTSFIELD — Five trustees joined the Berkshire Museum board Monday, offering pledges to boost the institution's relevance as it eyes a new approach to exhibitions.

The trustees include an artist, scientist, police chief and communications and marketing experts.

Elizabeth McGraw, the board president, said in a statement the group brings "diverse and valuable skills to the museum at a time of renewed energy, enthusiasm, and optimism about what's possible here."

McGraw said the new trustees will help the museum roll out its plan to remake the way it presents exhibits, which she said will sit upon "the three pillars of our mission ... art, history, and science."

The museum's agenda for the annual meeting was to include a decision on hiring a search firm to find a new executive director, as well as the makeup of a local search committee. The executive director's post is being held temporarily by David W. Ellis of Cambridge.

The fall arrives with leaders of the 115-year-old institution facing big decisions about how to manage and use proceeds from art sales that now top $47 million. On top of that, at least another $8 million is expected to be received from transfers completed over the summer that fall within the total dollar amount allowed under an agreement reached between the museum and Attorney General Maura Healey.

In addition to picking a new executive director, the museum has said it plans to hire a business manager to consult on its newly expanded endowment. Citing a roughly $1 million yearly operating deficit, the museum won Healey's agreement in February to sell art, then had that plan upheld in April by the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.

Trustees also will oversee contracts related to work on the "New Vision," the term used by former Executive Director Van Shields to describe a new emphasis on multimedia exhibits.

While that shift was to be anchored by a major building renovation, according to the board's July 12, 2017, announcement, several trustees said in an spring interview with The Eagle that the extent of rebuilding was getting a second look.

Carol Bosco Baumann, the museum's spokeswoman, said Monday that some earlier concepts are indeed being revisited. "All existing plans and preliminary drawings for building repairs and renovations are under review," she said in response to questions.

Under direction from Healey's office, the museum also plans to seek new bids, as work goes forward.

But the overall concept of a new approach is intact. "The board remains committed to the interdisciplinary interpretive plan," Bosco Baumann said.

She said the museum plans to say later how it will use an outside consultant to help it manage its investments, steps it will take related to the job search and provide an update on the status of art sales.

As of now, all but two of the works listed for sale in late June as part of a second group have been sold, but the value of proceeds has not been disclosed.

Joining the board Monday for two-year terms are:

- Catharine B. Deely, of Pittsfield, a marketing and communications expert who formerly worked for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and served on the board of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

- Rachel Melendez Mabee, of Pittsfield, a communications specialist who is program manager for PGA Reach, the charitable foundation of PGA of America, the golfing association.

- Josh Simpson, of Shelburne Falls, a glassmaker and artist whose work is on view at the museum.

- Jeffrey Thomas, of Williamstown, a scientist and entrepreneur who founded Lever, a business incubator in North Adams.

- Michael Wynn, of Pittsfield, the city's police chief and current Norman Rockwell Museum trustee.

Leaders remain

Amid those arrivals, the board voted Monday to retain the leadership that carried it through a year of litigation and community debate, following its announcement in July 2017 that the museum would sell works from its collection to build its endowment and prepare for a shift to interactive programming.

McGraw was re-elected president and Ethan Klepetar and Stacey Gillis Weber were re-elected vice presidents. Similarly, Lydia S. Rosner secured a new term as secretary and Stephen Bayne remains treasurer.

In comments provided by the museum, new trustees expressed enthusiasm for planned changes.

In an open letter May 31, trustees said that while they planned to reconsider renovations that would create an atrium space in the 39 South St. building, they would move ahead with plans to alter how pieces from its collection are presented.

"We must ensure our facilities are updated to contemporary museum standards and create a platform for exciting new experiences based on community input, true to our mission, and financially sustainable," the open letter said.

Melendez Mabee said she backs the changes.

"I profoundly believe in and proudly support the important direction the museum is headed," she said.

Simpson said that as a glassmaker using traditional tools, he stands at the crossroads of art and science, adding, "which is part of why the Berkshire Museum's interdisciplinary approach appeals to me."

Thomas said he looked forward to helping the museum expand its offers in the STEM field, the shorthand for science, technology, engineering and math.

Wynn recalled learning to use chopsticks when he visited the museum as a child. He called the museum "a valuable partner" in educating young people. "That's the key to the future of our community," he said.

Deely praised the museum for helping provide "that spark of imagination" to the Berkshires.

The newcomers fill a variety of vacated seats on the board, including those formerly held by Eric Korenman, Jake Eberwein and Ursula Ehret-Dichter, all of whom completed their terms.

Other openings resulted when trustees left before their terms were up. Departures from the board over the past year included David Neubert, Jay Bikofsky and Barbara Krauthamer.

In other board action, trustees Bayne, Wendy Gordon, and Suzanne Nash were re-elected to two-year terms, while McGraw, Rosner, Weber, William Hines Jr., Donna Krenicki and Jeffrey Noble were re-elected to one-year terms.

Other trustees serving previous terms are Michael Addy, Douglas Crane, David Glodt, Caitlin Pemble and Melissa Scarafoni.

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


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