Letter: Museum shouldn't risk getting pariah status
People of good will and intent charged with responsibly managing the Berkshire Museum to benefit and serve the
people of Pittsfield and beyond have, by their own admission, failed to effectively manage the museum's finances
over an extended period of time. In an effort to solve this problem they have chosen to sell the most valuable
parts of their collection — works by Norman Rockwell, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, Alexander Calder, and
other artists — to generate cash for support of operations.
National standards established by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum
Directors (AAMD) preclude sales of objects from collections to support operations because such actions
undermine public and donor confidence and trust central to the survival of all museums. It is clear, for example,
that Norman Rockwell did not give an extremely important example of his work to the Berkshire Museum
to help offset deficits, to renovate or construct new facilities, or to support a move to eliminate presentation
of important works of art from the museum's mission and service to the people of Pittsfield and beyond.
Upholding donor and patron intent and maintaining the integrity of a museum and its collections requires discipline and an unwavering commitment to sound stewardship. The Board and director of the Berkshire Museum have no doubt sought to maintain the financial and programmatic integrity of the museum to the best of their ability. But instead of addressing the fundamental problems associated with unsound and unsustainable finances, they have chosen an apparent quick fix by treating the most valuable part of their collection as a bank account from which they can draw out a large amount of cash.
By selling art to support operations, the Berkshire Museum will be a pariah in the national community of
museums. Beyond this outcome and the perpetual loss of access to important works of art by students
and members of the public in Pittsfield and the region, members of the community should ask what reasons exist
to believe the museum's plans to add to its facility and its costs and to shift its focus to science and history will be
successful, especially given past performance. The museum has not requested assistance from
professional organizations to carefully consider all of its options. The museum has not explained why it
has not been able to successfully manage its finances over many years. Museum leaders have simply asserted
that there are no other options apart from selling the most valuable part of the museum's collection to deal with
Members of the Pittsfield community should pursue answers to these questions before supporting a plan that will
isolate their museum and forever strip their community and the public at large of irreplaceable art. The Berkshire Museum is a core part of the heritage of Pittsfield, the region, and the commonwealth. Its future warrants careful and thoughtful consideration.
Dan L. Monroe,
Dan L. Monroe is a former president of the American Alliance of Museums and of the Association of Art
Museum Directors. He is director and CEO of the Peabody Essex Museum which stands among the largest art
museums in New England and among the top 18 art museums in the nation.
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