Protesting Berkshire Museum's Unethical Sale

Pickets Planned for Saturday Morning August 12

By: - Aug 10, 2017

It is time for action  and not just words. Join the picket lines this Saturday, August 12, from 9 AM to noon.

There was an aura of secrecy and lack of transparency when the Berkshire Museum announced radical plans to sell key works from the fine arts collection and gut its historic, art deco, Crane Room and auditorium with two Calder Mobiles, in order to "reboot" as a children's interactive museum for science and natural history.

Initially, the Berkshire Eagle praised plans to save the museum from extinction some eight years hence. That changed when Laurie Norton  Moffett, director of the Norman Rockwell, in an Eagle op-ed piece called for a "pause."

There has been a firestorm since with pro and con articles lashing daily through the Eagle and spreading like a forest fire to national media.

While museum director, Van Shields, states that he has followed media reports he is unswayed in going forward with the sale and extreme makeover.

In essence he dismisses a few dissidents and claims to have the support of the majority of the community.

MASS MoCA director, Joe Thompson, in an Eagle article supported the "reboot" urging protesters to "get real" about the museum and its lack of options.

Then Rockwell's three sons and grandsons posted a letter stating that it was not the artist's intent to see his works sold to makeover and gut the museum and community he supported.

Even the Eagle has run an editorial faulting the museum for withholding financial reports, essential documents, and details of plans for programming, budgets, and projected attendance targets. 

Part of the museum's problem has been an absence of curators for exhibitions and programing including its haphazard and underattended Little Art Cinema. While claiming that the museum can't afford essential professional staffing Shields has deep pockets for expensive attorneys, consultants, and spin doctors. These are wrong headed priorities.

On Saturday, August 12, from 9 AM to 12 PM, there will be picket lines in front of the museum. Concerned citizens are urged to attend.

It’s time to rethink the museum's strategy.

  1. Based on the wishes the Rockwell family, and pleas from the community, those paintings must be withdrawn from the sale.
  2. The museum is determined to continue with the sale, short of an injunction. It will fall short of the targeted $50 million. Plans should immediately refocus based on revised projections.
  3.  Money from a fall auction should be applied to retire debt and increase the endowment. This would allow the museum and board to survive another day and revise its fiscal and curatorial strategies.
  4. The museum must immediately hire a curator, interns or consultants to study and access the fine arts collections and how best to integrate them more effectively.
  5. Fire the current architectural team and start over. The projected $20 million renovation is a disaster. It calls for destroying the historic, art deco, Crane Room and the auditorium with its two signature Calder Mobiles. The purpose of this is to create an enormous lobby and atrium. Why not take a page from the book of leading museum architect Lord Norman Foster? He is renowned for reconfiguring historic structures- the MFA, British Museum Library, The Reichstag in Berlin- by creating glass and steel atriums. There is sufficient space in front of the museum to create just such a structure while preserving the overall historic integrity of the museum. This new construction could be created at a fraction of the cost of reuse renovation.
  6. Rethink the mission and mandate of the museum. Develop better strategies for integrating its eclectic elements. It is time to retire the plaster casts but upgrade the fine arts in a dialogue with other aspects of the collection. How do the fine arts relate to natural science, optics and other agendas of interactive education?
  7. Welcome and work with a thriving and growing community of artists, curators, critics and arts professionals. There is an enormous resource of talent in the region to tap into. As the Berkshire Museum it is time yet again to be just that. The name says it all. Become a vital resource for all aspects of our rich and diverse region and community. That is likely to increase interest, support, giving and attendance.
  8. Step away from the negative branding that says to the nation that we are an arts community that does not respect and preserve our legacy and heritage.
  9. Take positive steps by embracing all of the community and not just the 400 it interacted with behind closed doors. The museum has been exclusive and must now become inclusive.
  10. Consider a change of leadership. Is Van Shields the right person to take us to the next level? Does the current board inspire vision and confidence?