More protesters decry planned Berkshire Museum art sale

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PITTSFIELD — Faces veiled, protesters on Saturday congregated at Park Square to once again decry the sale of 40 pieces of art by the Berkshire Museum.

The artworks, including a pair of Norman Rockwell pieces, will be auctioned in November at Sotheby's in New York City. Museum officials have stated in several stories in The Eagle that this strategy was formulated over the course of a two-year planning process that encompassed several years.

But a story in the Sept. 7 Eagle suggested that the museum's present executive director, Van Shields, may have been pondering the art sale upon his hiring in 2011.

"That story," said Laurie Green, who owns the Museum Facsimile Outlet Store with her husband, Ken Green. "It makes a lot of things clear. This was their plan all along. It explains a lot. Why there was no fundraising. It was never part of their plan."

The veils were worn by about a dozen protesters, according to Florence Mason of Stephentown, N.Y., who has been at several previous protests. The total crowd estimate for the event by organizers was between 100 to 125 people at one point.

"We have had tremendous loss here," Mason said. "These works of art are a part of our history. It's very upsetting to me."

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Megan Whilden, former Director of Cultural Development in Pittsfield and a co-founder of the Four Freedoms Coalition, was not at Saturday's event, but drove by it. In an email to The Eagle, she pointed out that she "supported" the museum's "bold move and profound investment in the future of our community." She added in a later phone interview that Joseph Thompson, founder of Mass MoCA, faced similar criticism and negative comments when he began that facility.

"I am glad Joe Thompson persevered," said Whilden, "and we now have an extraordinary museum of modern art in the Berkshires today."

She added that she also respected the protesters.

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"It's understandably upsetting to many people," she said.

Carol Diehl of Great Barrington, one of the protest organizers, pointed to the same Sept. 7 Eagle story as proof that the art sale was in the cards all along. She also pointed out that the art represents a very key part of Berkshire County history.

"[Museum founder] Zenas Crane donated some of these works of art to get this museum started," she said. "They are a huge part of our history as a county."

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"The museum's plan was presented to us as a do or die situation," said Sharon Gregory of Great Barrington, another organizer. "I think the management of the museum has taken their eye off the ball. I believe they've created a false crisis to justify their actions."

"The crux of any good museum," said Hope Davis, "is fundraising and great programming."

Davis was a former member of the Board of Directors of the Hudson River Museum. She now lives in Great Barrington. She is also an art consultant and art instructor.

"I know how hard it is to run a museum," she said. "You look at the ledger every month with a shudder. And you have to cut staff and move people around to wear a couple of hats and keep exhibits up longer to make ends meet.

"This is a violation of the core foundation of this museum," she added. "These pieces represent the early Berkshires. They can't be replaced."

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977.


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