Rosemary Starace, Hope Davis, and Sharon Gregory: Berkshire Museum belongs to community
We release this statement on the eve of Tuesday's Boston Appeals Court hearing on the precedent-setting case regarding the Berkshire Museum's decision to sell its valuable art collection and disregard its original mission.
The most treasured and valuable works in the collection have been sold, most recently the second early Alexander Calder standing mobile. The importance of these two pieces to Calder's career and to the history of the museum cannot be underestimated. Although these masterpieces are now gone, this suit could lead to another pause in the sale of the significant art that remains, and force a discussion about reinvesting — in art — some or all of the $47 million reaped from the sales to date.
In this upcoming case, fundamental arguments against the Berkshire Museum are being made from a different perspective. Museum member plaintiffs assert they have standing to enforce the museum's governing documents. This has become critical, the case argues, because the trustees have breached their fiduciary duties. By not, so far, allowing members to have "derivative rights," the Court is allowing the trustees to destroy the institution.
The suit states that the museum's Board of Trustees, " deceived the public while conducting misleading focus groups designed to rationalize a fundamental shift in purpose that the Museum did not disclose to participants or members. It has lied, either now or in 2015, about the financial state of the Museum. It rewrote its Collections Management Policy to cover up its prior breaches, only to violate the articles of incorporation by endorsing the shipment of restricted works out of Pittsfield."
Save The Art — Save The Museum supports this suit as a vital step in resolving questions crucial to the future of the Berkshire Museum and beyond. Who owns the public's art, and who decides on its care? How should a board be structured to fairly represent its stakeholders, ensuring a range of viewpoints reflective of the community it serves? What is the value of an exceptional art collection to a community?
Save The Art — Save The Museum continues to advocate for the value of this art for our whole community. Of the 40 works of art earmarked for sale, 14 have been sold to date. There is still important art in the collection that can — and must — be saved.
Although the museum persists in its secrecy about the status of the others, we press it to bring the rest of the art back to Pittsfield. This group includes three Hudson River School landscapes, by Bierstadt, Moran, and Inness, invaluable to the Berkshire Museum's interdisciplinary mission. Keeping them would give credence to the museum's claim that it is still an art museum. Crucially, they form a coherent foundation on which to rebuild.
With a staggering $47 million realized through auction and private sales thus far, and no clear plan for a "New Vision," the museum cannot claim it requires additional funds to "keep the doors open." A wise Board of Trustees honoring Zenas Crane's mission could allocate a major portion of the $47 million to remake the art collection with respect for the past, awareness of present-day realities, and consideration for future generations.
A misguided sell-off of the museum's remaining art will further alienate a substantial number of community members. It will also deprive the museum of a resource that would enable it to serve as both a cultural and educational institution, as was originally intended by its founder. Save The Art — Save The Museum supports the aims of the lawsuit to bring the museum leadership to its senses and to prevent further destruction of its collection, reputation, and future success. The Berkshire Museum belongs to the community, and not to its Board of Trustees.
Rosemary Starace of Pittsfield and Hope Davis and Sharon Gregory, both of Great Barrington, write on behalf of Save the Art — Save the Museum.
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