Letter: Berkshire Museum stuck on autopilot
Van Shields and the Berkshire Museum Board of Directors, as managers of a non-profit institution, have a fiduciary responsibility to the public to manage and protect the museum's property and money. Instead, they are about to take from the public art many argue belongs to the public. This is less a "vision" than a mission of a man who seeks to leave his mark on a venerable Berkshire institution, regardless of public opinion. His vainglory will leave a black eye on the Berkshire Museum..
Since 2011, things have been running on "auto pilot." Shields would be a hero today, rather than a villain, if he had created a renewed awareness of and appeal for captivating programs that drew a broad range of patrons and philanthropic donations. There are many aspects to running a museum and what follows is only a summary. But key elements of tax returns during his tenure tell a compelling story:
— Despite significant contributions in 2013 and 2014, and an economic resurgence over the last seven years, the endowment balance has dropped under Shields management. The museum is running on autopilot.
— Investment balances declined substantially in the last year reported and significant "unrealized" losses have decreased the endowment's investment potential as well. Autopilot.
— Admission and membership revenues of $195,000 and $207,000 respectively, per year on average have been flat. Shields' less-than-visionary curatorial direction has not boosted patronage. Autopilot.
— Fundraising income is paltry. It doesn't attract the philanthropy expected of a respected regional museum. GE and other large firms are long gone, but they are not the only source. A recent $2.5 million grant from a single source in support of the "new vision" is proof philanthropy is alive and well. A $1 million grant to "pause" the art sale was offered. Creativity, persistence and hard work would have — and can still — prevail. Autopilot.
— Government grants are all but non-existent as a source of revenue over the years. Shields was employed by the Museum of the Moving Image whose income from government sources is extraordinary by comparison. Autopilot.
— Averaged over the years, expenses and revenue have run nearly the same. Not ideal. But despite the "cry wolf" from a director in sheep's clothing, the doors aren't about to close, either.
Shields has little to show for his efforts. Now more than ever the museum needs dynamic leadership that will forge a new direction without resorting to a $60 million "tag sale." Once the deaccession money is in the bank, Shields and the board will not look back. But the true patrons of the arts will never forget or forgive.
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