Berkshire Museum will tap headhunter to help find new chief

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PITTSFIELD — Headhunters will be tapped this month to help the Berkshire Museum find an executive director, aided by an internal search committee that is promising to allow community involvement in the search.

Trustees are expected to hire an executive search firm when they convene for their annual meeting Sept. 24, according to spokeswoman Carol Bosco Baumann.

The new leader will replace Van Shields, who left in June at the age of 67, after serving as executive director for nearly seven years.

Shields' final year made news nationally, after he and his board announced in July 2017 that they would sell up to 40 works of art. Sales are continuing as the museum works to take in the $55 million in proceeds allowed by a Supreme Judicial Court decision this spring, after months of litigation and controversy.

The move was denounced by museum trade groups and by members of a citizens group, Save the Art-Save the Museum.

But trustees insisted that the 39 South St. institution's financial situation was dire — and they eventually won the support of Attorney General Maura Healey, whose staff initially had opposed the sales.

After Shields stepped down in late June, trustees named an interim leader, David W. Ellis. They also assigned Nina Garlington to a new position as chief of staff.

Baumann said the search is expected to take up to nine months. She declined to say how much the search firm's services would cost the museum, in part because its compensation might be tied to the new director's salary.

Baumann said the names of trustees and staff serving on the internal search committee will be made public after the Sept. 24 board meeting.

"We are in process now to create a search committee of members of the board of trustees and museum staff with a plan for community involvement," she said in a statement, in response to questions from The Eagle.

Two search firms submitted proposals to the museum, Baumann said, after the internal search panel initially considered six firms.

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At the time Shields retired, the museum thanked him for helping to "chart a course to secure the museum's future, true to our mission and responsible to our community."

"He played a key leadership role in developing the museum's master plan announced in July of 2017," the museum said.

Shields, who earned $138,571 as executive director in 2017, declined at the time to comment on his decision to retire.

In a statement released by the museum, Shields said: "We have charted a course that will well serve the museum and this community."

Baumann said in June that Shields' decision to retire was his own and did not come at the request of the board. She declined to say whether Shields received a retirement incentive package.

When Shields retired, members of Save the Art called on trustees to postpone additional art sales until a new leader was in place.

But sales of an additional group of nine works, announced in June, are believed to continue. One work, "Dancing Torpedo Shape" by Alexander Calder, was purchased in a private transaction for an undisclosed price.

The buyer, the Calder Foundation of New York City, bought an earlier museum holding, Calder's "Double Arc and Sphere," at a Sotheby's auction for $1 million.

The museum has declined since June to provide updates on the status of the sales. Two Asian works were scheduled to be sold in auctions this month.

Ellis, the interim director, is a former chemistry professor and college president. He lives in Cambridge. Ellis served as president of the Boston Museum of Science from 1990 to 2002.

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


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