Letter: Those who trash museum don't grasp harsh reality
Like everyone else who cares about Pittsfield and our Berkshires, I have followed closely the saga of the Berkshire Museum with great hope and trepidation. I have the highest respect for the majority of people on both sides of the issue who want nothing more than to see our Berkshire Museum thrive. What has been the most troubling, although predictable, are the mean-spirited letters and comments from people who are not only ill informed but have no basis to make judgments without facts to back them up.
Unless you have served on a volunteer board, particularly one in the cultural arena, you cannot appreciate how difficult the job is. You battle every day just to survive. Ticket sales and other revenue generate maybe half of the income required. Fundraising must fill the gap. It's the only business I know of that starts each year knowing it will be a loss. After cutting expenses to the bone, you then must go out hat in hand and raise the required dollars to keep the doors open.
Those who criticize the museum for not having a curator never bothered to think it maybe could not afford one. Paying employees, the electric bill and other critical obligations takes precedence. To those who have been the most critical: Have you been at a board meeting where, unless directors wrote a personal check, the doors would not open? Well, I have. It is not a pleasant experience. To criticize trustees for this level of commitment is most disheartening.
Early in the discussion, Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson wrote a letter (July 29, 2017) in support of the Berkshire Museum's decision. You should read it again. He was right on target. Why? Because he has had to walk the walk. He was the one who had to pay the bills to keep the lights on and staff in place with very limited funds. It took a lot of difficult times for Mass MoCA to get where it is today.
Those cultural organizations that managed to survive did so for one basic reason: They have had one or more benefactors who stepped up to balance the ledger. The Berkshire Museum would have been in this position years ago if it were not for the largess of the Crane family. The same is true for those organizations that have benefited from the extremely generous support of families like the Fitzpatricks, Feigenbaums, Millers, Cranes and Englands.
And another reality for those who think raising money will be easy: Most of these individuals and businesses we have relied on are gone. Yes, others have stepped up, but how do you replace GE, KB Toys, Sheaffer Eaton, ED Jones, Sabic, First Aggie Bank and the countless other companies that have closed or moved their corporate headquarters? We should be applaud those that have assumed some of the load, but realize that raising even $5 million locally, a home run by many standards, still would not begin to bridge the $55-million gap that even the attorney general concedes is real.
Many have opined on what would be the reaction of Zenas Crane and Norman Rockwell. I would suggest that, knowing how much they both loved the museum and were vested in its future, they would look at the facts and support this decision to guarantee the Berkshire Museum's future.
So where do we go from here? Fortunately, determined people persevered. They provided a solution for which we could only hope. This has never been a winner-take-all situation. To succeed, there had to be trade-offs, compromise and people willing to make hard choices for the good of the Berkshire Museum. No one wanted to sell paintings. But it was the only realistic solution. Now is the time for all of us to get on board as a community and support our Berkshire Museum.
The writer is former president of First Agricultural Bank and of the Colonial Theatre.
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