Timeline on how Berkshire Museum trustees managed choices on art sales

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PITTSFIELD — Since reaching an agreement with Attorney General Maura Healey to sell artworks, trustees of the Berkshire Museum met far more often than they normally do.

Sessions every other month just didn't cut it.

Their meeting agendas and decisions in the first half of 2018 were disclosed in required reports to Healey's office.

Capsule accounts of the meetings and votes follow:

Feb. 5: Trustees review and approve the plan reached with Healey's staff to end months of litigation and instead seek court approval for sales.

Feb. 7: Board begins discussing works to sell, anticipating approval from the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County, which came April 5. Trustee President Elizabeth McGraw briefs the board on terms of the agreement. The museum must consider the interpretive value of works as well as their possible sale prices. Trustees review likely values of 39 works that can be sold; Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" is to be sold to a private museum, later identified publicly as the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles.

Trustees also identified a group of works to attempt to retain for the collection. In the following days, museum staff assessed works for possible sale "using a scheme based primarily on interpretive value," according to an April 10 report to Healey's office.

Feb. 9: The museum-Healey agreement is filed with the SJC and made public.

Feb. 14: Trustees hold the first of two meetings with finance and collections committees. The agenda focuses on making a final selection of works to sell in a first group, still pending court approval.

March 7: Trustees meet again with the finance and collections committees. Participants produce a list of 15 works to include in what becomes a series of May sales and auctions.

March 26: Board members pick works for initial sales. "The Board assessed options for raising the needed funds while retaining works with relatively high interpretive value," the museum reported to Healey.

One vote backs including 13 works. A second vote authorizes McGraw to add two paintings to the first sales, if needed as a result of revised auction estimates and less-than-expected net proceeds from the sale of "Shuffleton's Barbershop." In the end, the paintings were not included. They were Jan Victor's "Benjamin and His Brethren" and Benjamin West's "Daniel Interpreting to Belshazzar the Handwriting on the Wall."

Also on March 26, trustees discuss the goal of keeping works accessible to the public through sales. Trustees back the idea, "but also expressed the concern that selling works subject to such restrictions would significantly reduce sale value and require the Museum to sell a greater number of works ." the institution informed Healey. Trustees agreed to ask Sotheby's to relay offers from buyers willing to commit to public displays.

April 5: Associate Justice David A. Lowy issues his ruling approving of the agreement. Trustees meet that day to discuss the decision. They again debate the issue of public art displays by buyers and agree to ask Sotheby's to take steps to foster such sales. (In April and May, Sotheby's staff members contact more than 150 institutions offering special access and terms for purchases.)

April 19: The trustees' Finance Committee creates a subcommittee to expand the museum's business plan, including hiring a consultant to be found through a competitive bidding process.

May 14: A series of Sotheby's auctions of Berkshire Museum works begins.

May 23: Sales end with 12 of 13 works being sold by auction or private transaction. Net proceeds from those sales and "Shuffleton's Barbershop" come to $47 million.

June 7: Trustees discuss the shortfall from expected proceeds. The board reaffirms a wish to get the full $55 million allowed by the agreement. Trustees instruct staff to select works for a second batch of sales and, in doing so, to consider both financial and interpretive values.

June 11: Staff finishes its research, which included contact with Sotheby's about works most likely to be sought by public institutions. On the same day, Collections Committee approved the staff's choice of nine works to sell.

June 12: Trustees unanimously approve the works chosen for a second batch of sales, marking seven for private transactions and two Asian works for a September auction.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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