Letter: Mishandled art sale compounds damage
The current issue with the Berkshire Museum is no longer just about selling its best art, but also the way the sale has been handled. The inept maneuvering has resulted in a massive disregard for professional standards, divisive public relations, and suggests a lack of good faith. What was the motive in keeping the deaccession plan secret until the agreement with Sotheby's was fixed? Why did the museum withhold the full list of artworks until the public demanded its release? Did the museum leadership anticipate the local and national uproar that has followed? Did they think through the consequences?
Thus far, the museum's defensive reaction has not served to advance its purpose and has done incalculable damage to its reputation. Many thousands of dollars were spent on focus groups to ponder the institution's future, yet, as the participants were denied crucial information about how the changes would be funded, their findings have no validity and the expenditure was wasted. Similarly, vast sums have been spent on outside public relations firms to no positive outcome.
Given the mishandling of events thus far, if the auction does go through, would it be wise to put that same leadership in charge of managing the $50 million to $65 million the art will yield? Furthermore the radical renovation proposed for the historic museum building itself will set off a similar storm of protest.
Museums, indeed all nonprofit organizations, must make community-building a first priority. In light of developments that were clearly unforeseen, we urge the trustees to accept the proffered financial support to pause the sale.
This controversy has revealed the deep love the community has for our museum. We are motivated by that love, are eager to see the museum thrive, and stand ready to work together toward a shared goal.
Leslie Ferrin is proprietor of Ferrin Contemporary in North Adams. The letter was also signed by the following, all of whom are associated with Save The Art, Save The Museum: Linda Gunderson, Eric Drury, Grier Horner, Martha Lenz, Florian Ptak and Arlene Murcoch, all of Pittsfield, and Phil Deely of Stockbridge.
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