Letter: Sale would devastate potential cultural corridor
To the editor:
The importance of culture to the Berkshires is well-documented in the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission December 2017 study. While Pittsfield purports to create a cultural corridor, it will relinquish its greatest asset with the devastating liquidation of an exceptional art collection at the Berkshire Museum.
The recently proposed agreement between the Berkshire Museum and the office of the attorney general (AGO) does not "save the art." Instead, it sanctions the net proceeds (after Sotheby's fees) of $50 million or more without any fundamental restrictions. This sale is unprecedented and highly publicized.
The AGO factually documents the Berkshire Museum's deaccessioning actions in its Jan. 16th report. In 2015, at the behest of the Museum, Sotheby's and Christie's appraised 585 of its most valuable art objects worth an average of $64 million. Sotheby's selected 40 objects to sell, representing 90 percent of the value of the collection, even though the museum's hired strategic consultant stated only one-third of the amount was needed. Regardless, the museum laid plans to spend proceeds, incorporating the New Vision plan. The AGO report states, "But the New Vision does not solve that problem. Instead, the New Vision proposes more ways to spend money, without identifying savings."
Further, the museum contracted with Sotheby's in May 2017 which violated its own bylaws, ignored restrictions and notified the AGO after committing to Sotheby's.
The proposed agreement moreover violates the public trust. Beginning with Zenas Crane, generations have contributed to the museum for the study of art, nature and culture. How can this museum ignore creative solutions, change its mission and sell its most valuable works? Saving the building amounts to gutting it for a completely different purpose.
How can our public officials who have promoted this devastation, believe it will promote a cultural corridor? Wouldn't it be more sensible to use the geographic centrality of the museum and its exceptional collection as a magnet? Has it reached out to the wider region for fundraising or only concentrated on the allure of new, easy money? The proposed North Adams Extended Railroad & Architecture project cost is $65 million, yet the Berkshire Museum needs $60 million for its New Vision? Is North Adams a more creative, stronger fundraiser?
How can the Massachusetts Attorney General capitulate and reward wrongdoing with a completely unrestricted use of $50 million-plus? Hopefully, the state Supreme Court Justice will reject the proposed agreement. Only then, will the community be able to reunite and plan a realistic future for the Berkshire Museum.
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