Letter: Protect our common property at museum
To the editor:
I am the owner of the Rockwell paintings that the Berkshire Museum board is trying to sell. In fact, I own all of the works at the museum. So do most of your readers. The museum board of trustees serves on behalf of all the citizens, protecting and caring for the paintings and other assets so that everyone may enjoy them. Because we each can't oversee every nonprofit asset, we citizens "entrust" them to the volunteer board. The same is true for all nonprofit organizations — private schools, food kitchens, the Pittsfield Family Y, Jacob's Pillow, Mass MoCA, the Berkshire Botanical Gardens. And in this case, when a nonprofit board is acting unethically, and possibly, illegally, the Attorney General is there to protect us and the things we own.
There are few museums, of the thousands in the U.S. that have gone out of business. When a museum dissolves it is usually because of an ineffective board and lack of stable professional leadership. Effective, intelligent, ethical museum boards raise money and select and support great leaders. Look at a healthy nonprofit and you will find that combination — a generous board willing to raise money and donate personally that also selects a wise leader and supports her or him over the long term. The Berkshire Museum board, caught in a financial bear trap of its own doing, is trying to chew off its ankle to survive. Its record of personal contributions is unimpressive and its choices of directors uninspired.
Most of our beloved Berkshire nonprofit arts institutions — Barrington Stage, the Mahaiwe, the Norman Rockwell Museum, Jacob's Pillow, the Clark, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and countless others share the same characteristics — generous boards that select their leaders wisely and then support them heartily.
Twenty years ago, when the board of the Terra Museum of American Art tried to move the collection out of its home in Chicago to Washington, D.C., the Illinois Attorney General fired the board and installed a new one; that board then selected a president who, over the last 18 years, has led the institution to new heights, serving not only Chicago and the state, but the world.
It is time to encourage the AG to protect our paintings — yours and mine — because they who are tending them now simply can no longer be trusted.
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