Help Save the Art/Save the Museum
SAVE THE ART / SAVE THE MUSEUM (STA / STM)
is a grassroots citizens organization of individuals who share a common concern about the Berkshire Museum's plan to de-accession its most precious works of art and fund a "New Vision".
UPDATE: Norman Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” has been sold to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art for an undisclosed amount. Judge Lowy's judgement allows the unrestricted sale of the 39 other works of art given to the people of Berkshire County. The following 13 are scheduled for auction at Sotheby's in May 2018.
May 22, Bouguereau's L'Agneau Nouveau-Ne, 1873
May 22: Bouguereau's Les deux soeurs (La Bourrique), 1884
May 22: Adriaen Isenbrant, The Flight into Egypt, (1510-1520)
May 22: Adriaen Isenbrant, The Temptation of Adam & Eve, (1510-1520)
May 23: Rembrandt Peale, George Washington, 1795
May 23: Frederic Church, Valley of Santa Isabel, 1875
May 22: Charles Daubigny, Paysans allant aux champs (Le Matin) 1876
May 23: John La Farge, Magnolia, 1863
May 22: Alberto Pasini, Faubourg de Constantinople, 1877
May 14: Henry Moore, Three Seated Women, 1942
May 14: Francis Picabia, Force Comique, 1913-14
May 14: Norman Rockwell, Blacksmith's Boy - Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop), 1940
May 16: Alexander Calder, Double Arc and Sphere, 1932
OUR PUBLIC OUTREACH CONTINUES:
STA appreciates your help with ongoing costs that include our website and email list maintenance, graphic design and production, writing and dissemination of press releases, ads, and public statements, and organizing public events.
Follow links to see updates on our website and Facebook page .
We are grateful for your generous support!
WHAT THE FUNDS ARE FOR: STA-STM deposits its funds into the organization’s account and directs its co-treasurers to disburse them in accordance with our stated purposes: legal action to save the art and public outreach. The group’s principles honor the public trust which has accumulated this collection started by Zenas Crane over a century ago.
WHERE ARE WE BASED:
Meetings take place in Pittsfield, attended by residents of the Berkshires, Massachusetts.
PUT THE TRUST BACK IN PUBLIC TRUST:
The Museum's “New Vision” violates the public trust, flouts long-held museum ethics, and sets a damaging precedent that will be felt in museums and cultural institutions across the country. It dishonors the founders and stewards of the museum's past and deprives future generations of their cultural inheritance.
Instead we support an “alternative vision” for the museum where, instead of sending these great works into private hands where they will most likely never be seen in public again, they are used as a springboard to establish the Berkshire Museum as one of Massachusetts’ great regional museums of art, history, and culture. As such it will provide access to great art within walking distance to the children of Pittsfield, attract tourism, and energize the city’s economy.
We love the museum and are confident that, given that the outcry has reached national proportions, if the directors were to rethink their plans, they could transform this attention into enormously increased financial support, as happened when the Detroit Institute of the Arts faced similar circumstances.
We will be grateful for any donation, large or small. Even a modest contribution will be evidence of our large groundswell of support.
Zenas Crane 3d by Ivan Olinsky, 1902
OUR STORY:The origins of the Berkshire Museum go back to 1871, when the Massachusetts legislature enacted a charitable corporation called the Trustees of the Berkshire Athenaeum, where there existed an art museum. Then came Zenas Crane. In 1903, Zenas Crane of Crane & Company of Dalton was the energetic and financial force behind the creation of a separate museum on South Street. Crane advocated the same charitable corporation that ran the Athenaeum also run the new museum. The legislature changed the name to the Trustees of the Berkshire Athenaeum and Museum in March of 1903. The following month, Crane then deeded the South Street parcel to the Trustees. Zenas Crane, who invested his wealth in his community, actively sought out art and artifacts for the Berkshire Museum (some of the significant works scheduled to be sold), and encouraged the development of collections that would display, under one roof, the splendors of nature and the sublime creations of human genius—science and art, natural and manmade beauty, together in intellectual and aesthetic collaboration—a “window on the world.”
Zenas Crane donated not only the space, but also bequeathed $200,000 and entrusted much of the fine art collection to the museum. Other Berkshire County families donated art and money to the museum over time. Norman Rockwell himself, a resident of the Berkshires, donated his own works. Would Zenas Crane and Norman Rockwell have given art to the Museum had they known that their donations would be monetized and sold to the highest bidder?
The current administration, in an attempt to shore up its finances, fund a “New Vision” and ensure the Museum’s stability “for the next hundred years,” has sent 40 of its most valuable artworks for auction starting November 13th. They say the works, from which they hope to raise $40-60 million, are “not essential” to the Museum’s new mission with its focus on science and technology, primarily for children. Among the works to be sold works are two paintings by Norman Rockwell donated by the artist for the Museum’s “permanent collection,” significant works by Hudson River School artists, including Albert Bierstadt and Fredric Edwin Church, and sculpture by Alexander Calder, now internationally-recognized but once a local artist whose first commissions were for the Berkshire Museum.
While the Museum conducted focus groups in forming their “New Vision,” because participants were not informed about how it would be funded, the results are not valid. Following the Museum’s revelation to the public, which occurred after the works were consigned to Sotheby’s, several financial analysts, including those at the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), which supported the Museum with over $1M in grants over the past ten years, have established that the Museum has exaggerated its financial need. In addition to the MCC, major museum organizations have made public their strong opposition to the sale, including the Smithsonian Institution, from which the Museum was forced to withdraw its affiliation.
HERE'S WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT
DONATE through gofundme
SIGN the community letter on our website
SIGN PETITION on Change.Org
to the Attorney General, Maura Healy, Museum Director, Van Shields, Board President, Elizabeth McGraw.
ADD YOUR VOICE in the FACEBOOK PAGE - Save the Art / Save the Museum – Articles & messages about events.
FOR MORE INFORMATION on WEBSITE & FAQ's – Compilation of articles, background information & FAQ's.
(On April 7, this open letter was placed on the Save the Art-Save the Museum social media pages. It was to appear in the Berkshire Eagle. Readers were invited to sign if they agreed with it. Within three days, close to 400 people had signed, and names are still being added. The letter has been printed both as a Letter to the Editor and a full-page ad appearing in the Sunday Berkshire Eagle (April 15, 2018). The letter and a complete updated list of signatures can be viewed on our website artberkshires.org)
The goal of strengthening the Berkshire Museum could have united the community as a source of local pride, if the Board of Trustees had transparently and actively sought support and alternative ideas from the public. By promoting its great art collection, the museum could have become a valuable engine for Pittsfield’s revitalization and the city’s identity as a vibrant regional arts center.
The museum’s present board and staff are not the owners of the amazing art collection that was built over generations for the public. They are merely temporary stewards. True stewardship would have allowed community dialogue and engagement to develop a real strategy to enable the museum to survive and thrive and protect the art at the core of its mission, as well as supporting its other roles.
Unfortunately, the museum leadership chose the opposite course, by secretly pursuing a massive selloff of much of its irreplaceable public art collection. It then rigidly presented it as a stark either/or choice of “sell or close.” The suddenness of that announcement last summer, and lack of true engagement with the public since then, aroused dismay and opposition that has been shared by many people - far more widely than those who most actively and visibly opposed it.
The lack of opportunities for true dialogue about the museum’s plans also undermined the consensus and momentum of efforts to connect Pittsfield to the Berkshires’ cultural life and economy. It has caused needless divisiveness in the community. It also created false dichotomies between old and young, art vs. education, science vs. culture, heritage vs. progress, and “art loving elitism” vs. “progressive” populism.
The city’s overall revitalization efforts are also collateral damage. The museum’s public-relations campaign led to portrayals of Pittsfield nationally as a declining community that cannot support its public resources. And the Berkshire Museum’s name has become a national symbol of the destructive prospect of institutions selling public art to the highest private bidders in the global art market.
Although the Berkshire Museum has won the legal challenges, its “victory” may become a pyrrhic one. Unfortunately, as the hammer drops at Sotheby’s for the sell-off of Pittsfield’s artistic heritage, the public trust is also being lost.
The museum now says it’s time to come together and “constructively” support its future. Where have they been for the past several years? Why did they brush aside the ideas of a thoughtful and concerned public, and the offers of assistance from experts and organizations?
Is it too late to mitigate the damage? Unless the board truly reconsiders the nature of its plans and engages the public to find a better solution for our community, the damage to the Berkshire Museum and the unfortunate impact on Pittsfield, will not be easily healed.
Thank you for your support.
STA suspended fundraising when the Attorney General stepped in to pause the sale and investigate. STA endorsed that process, but not the outcome: the proposed settlement allows for the sale of Rockwell’s “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” to a public, but unnamed institution for an undisclosed amount, and permits the unrestricted sale of the 39 other works art given to the people of Berkshire County. These 40 works represent 85% of the value of the museum’s auctionable assets.
The proposed agreement between the Attorney General and the museum has already been submitted to the Supreme Judicial Court. There are at least two amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs being filed in response. The purpose of the amicus curiae briefs is to inform the judge that the compromise fails to protect the cultural legacy of the Berkshires, and by extension, all museum collections, among other issues. Your donations make a statement that the public trust must be upheld. Information about hearing dates, legal filings and decisions will be kept current on our website and Facebook page.
Our public outreach continues. STA appreciates your help with ongoing costs that include our website and email list maintenance, graphic design and production, writing and dissemination of press releases, ads, and public statements, and organizing public events.
Separate from the preparation of the amicus briefs, there is an active appeal awaiting a hearing date that asserts the right of museum members to protest the sale of this art. STA will continue to contribute to the funding of this effort as well.
STA-STM deposits its funds into the organization’s account and directs its co-treasurers to disburse them in accordance with our stated purposes: legal action to save the art and public outreach. The group’s principles honor the public trust which has accumulated this collection started by Zenas Crane over a century ago.
We are grateful for your generous support!
Save the Art - Save the Museum Informational Rally
The Berkshire-based citizens group Save the Art – Save the Museum will stage a rally outside Harvard University Friday, Dec. 15 in connection with a national meeting of museum professionals organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and hosted by the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture. Save the Art – Save the Museum has garnered international coverage as a grass roots collective opposing the sale of 40 artworks by the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.
Save the Art invites fellow supporters to join their permitted rally, which will be held on the sidewalk to Harvard University’s Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, on Friday, Dec. 15 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Cambridge rally was co-organized by Save the Art – Save the Museum members Michael Morin of Newton and Sara Clement of Pittsfield. “I will be in Cambridge to share our community's experience, offer a warning to other communities, and bring attention to the efforts of AAM and other cultural organizations shedding light on the thorny issue of selling works held in the public trust,” Clement said. “If the Berkshire Museum’s sale succeeds in Pittsfield, the precedent it sets will threaten all public collections in the Commonwealth. It would allow all not-for-profit boards to monetize collections by claiming financial crisis, even if the crisis was the result of poor management.”
The conference, titled “Don't Raid the Cookie Jar: Creating Early Interventions to Prevent Deaccessioning Crises,” has been convened to address “the timely issue of deaccessioning.” It was organized in the wake of the Berkshire Museum controversy, which is currently the subject of an investigation by the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The rally is designed to supply informational outreach and to support the protection of cultural collections everywhere.
Officially designated a “workshop,” the event will be held Dec. 14-15 in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD); the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG), and the New England Museum Association (NEMA). The intent of the meeting, as stated on the AAM website, is to create practical interventions to deaccessioning via a combination of lectures, working sessions, and a plenary discussion. For more about the conference, see www.aam-us.org/events/don't-raid-the-cookie-jar
“We’re encouraged to see grass roots efforts such as Save the Art – Save the Museum supporting the standards of the museum field,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the AAM, in a joint statement on behalf of AAM and AAMD. “We agree that museum collections are held in the public trust and must not be treated as disposable financial assets. And we remain willing and available to work with the Berkshire Museum to identify and support the implementation of alternatives to the sale of collections that they are currently pursuing. We sympathize with museums across the US facing financial challenges. This is why our December 14-15 workshop is focused on finding practical solutions to help museums avoid financial crises.”
“The AAM convening is an opportunity to reaffirm longstanding standards for collections management and care so that museums continue to enjoy the public support they have earned,” said Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker. Walker, who has come out against the Berkshire Museum’s proposed sale, added, “Our nonprofit museums hold a unique position as stewards of our shared cultural heritage, and as such have a special responsibility to ensure public trust.”
The Berkshire Museum controversy has brought international attention to the unsanctioned sale of art and other treasures from public institutions. “Since July, the world has watched our community’s struggle,” said Leslie Ferrin, a founding member of Save the Art. “Now, during this pause provided by the court-ordered injunction on the Sothebys sale, word continues to spread about the museum’s efforts to change the way museums fund their goals.
“The legal impact of our museum’s efforts to sell for reasons other than to directly benefit the collection would be devastating,” Ferrin said. “The consequences will be felt not just in the Berkshires but everywhere public collections and properties are held in public trust. It is not only art that will disappear from public view should they succeed.”
“This is a test of the legal system and its ability to legislate between the financial claims of the Berkshire Museum and the protection the public collections,” said Morin, originally from Pittsfield. “If the sale goes through, then public lands, public buildings, and cultural collections are at risk. Nothing will be safe anymore.”
Save the Art
Save the Art – Save the Museum is a citizens’ group dedicated to serving and preserving the integrity of the Berkshire Museum and its collections. It began as a grass roots effort on social media shortly after the Museum announced plans for the sale in July. Members now meet regularly to organize opposition to the deaccession as well as to educate the public on viable alternatives to it.
Save the Art began as a spontaneous protest on social media shortly after the Museum announced plans for the sale in July. It currently has more than 2,500 members on its combined Facebook pages, drawing support across the Berkshires and all over the US. Save the Art has gathered more than 2,000 signatures on petitions sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General, and has generated an outpouring of letters of concern to state officials, representatives and the press. The group turned the matter into a state and national issue, with extensive national and international coverage.
Rather Than Sell the Work
Save the Art believes that deaccession of the Rockwells and other masterpieces (including major works by Bierstadt, Church and Calder), dishonors the founders and stewards of the Berkshire Museum's past and deprives future generations of their cultural inheritance. In pursuing the auction, the Museum betrays its longstanding role as keeper of Berkshire cultural memory. The sale violates the public trust, flouts ethical principles broadly held in the museum community, and sets a damaging precedent for museums and cultural institutions across the nation.
Rather than sending these great works into private collections, where they will never be seen in public again, we encourage the Museum to use them as a springboard to establish the Berkshire Museum as one of Massachusetts’ great regional museums of art, history and culture. As such, the Museum would provide access to the county's art and cultural heritage within walking distance to the children of Pittsfield, attract tourism, and energize the city’s economy.
For more information on Save the Art – Save the Museum, see artberkshires.org