No decision yet on sale of additional Berkshire Museum artworks

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PITTSFIELD — At their first meeting since selling more than $42 million worth of art, trustees of the Berkshire Museum discussed offering up other works from their collection, as allowed by the February agreement that ended months of litigation.

But no decision was made at the June 7 session, according to a spokeswoman. Trustees also discussed possible building projects involving the 39 South St. museum, with more debate to come.

The museum is allowed to sell up to $55 million worth of art under the terms of a Supreme Judicial Court order. Auctions and private sales in April and May brought the total raised to $42 million plus the undisclosed sale price of a painting by Frederic Edwin Church.

At last week's session, trustees discussed steps to fund the museum endowment — a centerpiece of the plan approved in February by Attorney General Maura Healey and sanctioned by a judge's order in April.

Carol Bosco Baumann, the museum's spokeswoman, said trustees are taking a fresh look at proposed changes outlined last summer, when the museum announced it would sell artworks, following years of internal review and public outreach.

Their work comes 11 months after announcing a "new vision" embracing multimedia exhibits that would be paid for large part by funds raised from art sales. The plan was challenged by two lawsuits and a monthslong probe by Healey's office.

With that behind them, trustees say they are at a "turning point" that affords them time to think and plan.

"All existing plans and preliminary drawings for building repairs and renovations are under review," Bosco Baumann said in a statement.

That means it remains to be determined whether areas within the 1903 building will be overhauled to create an atrium space.

"The board remains committed to the interpretive approach but recognizes that implementation depends on other decisions about potential building changes," Bosco Baumann said.

In its Feb. 9 petition to the SJC, attorneys for the museum said the atrium project was a necessary feature and that its cost figured in to the overall dollar value the institution needed to raise.

In paragraph 26 of its SJC filing, the museum said that $40 million was needed to shore up its endowment to cover recurring yearly deficits.

It went on to say:

"Approximately $20 million is needed to fund renovations to address the deficiencies in the Museum's physical plant described above, including improvements to its collections storage and display areas, the creation of a new atrium that will allow for the display of more art than is currently displayed, and the design of new exhibits that integrate art, history, and science and engage visitors in new ways."

Bosco Baumann said proceeds from recent art sales represent "important progress in the museum's financial security, allowing the board time to look to the future knowing they have protected the museum's most important asset, its open doors."

The citizens group Save the Art-Save the Museum has called on trustees not to sell additional works. The court order allowed the museum to choose from among 40 works from its collection.

The board of trustees meets every other month. In an open letter to the community May 31, trustees said they expect to have plans in place by the end of the year.

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


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