Letter: A breach of public trust, and of museum ethics
The controversy surrounding the Berkshire Museum has redirected our common vocabulary. Auction, reinvention, reconstruction, deaccession, monetization have become tainted words as we read about the economics, the legality and the ethics of selling off the best of the museum's art holdings.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with communities and institutions changing and finding new directions, it feels very wrong when there is a lack of connection with constituents both local and in a wider community. The museum, as many have noted, did not take the time to mount a capital campaign, which could have engaged the fundraising efforts of all those concerned with preserving the museum's holdings.
The sale of irreplaceable works of art may be legal, but there is no question that it is a breach of public trust and museum ethics. Critics of those who want to save the art have been accused of being stuck in the past. As Shakespeare said in "The Tempest," "what is past is prologue." The controversy around the museum's upcoming sale is no tempest in a teapot but a real concern for art, history and heritage.
We know what we have in these art treasures, but if and when they leave, we won't really know until they are gone, lost to us and to the future. It would be wonderful if the museum leadership would stop and open up to the community and seek a long-term plan to keep the museum open, vibrant and responsive to the people of all ages it should serve. Instead, I fear they will find that down the road, they have "paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
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