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.
Save the Art – Save the Museum to Hold Protest at Sotheby’s NYC Headquarters on Wednesday, May 23rd, 9 – 10AM
PITTSFIELD, Mass. (May 21, 2018) – The Berkshire-based citizens’ group Save the Art – Save the Museum will stage a protest outside Sotheby’s auction house at 1334 York Avenue in New York City, Wednesday, May 23, from 9 to 10 a.m. The group opposes the Berkshire Museum’s unethical deaccession of 40 artworks donated to the community and entrusted to the museum, now on the block at Sotheby’s. Save the Art will be calling attention to the impact this precedent will have on collections of art and artifacts in the public trust held by museums, libraries, and historical societies beyond Massachusetts.
This protest follows a successful earlier demonstration that took place at Sotheby’s on Monday, May 14, before the first auction in a series through which the museum hopes to raise $55 million to fund a $40 million endowment and a change to a science-oriented mission. At least 20 supporters from the Berkshires and the NY metropolitan area gathered in front of the auction house with bold red posters bearing slogans such as, “The public trust is not for sale,” in an effort to inform the public about the wide issues surrounding the sale of these artworks.
“Save the Art has chosen to protest at this sale because the American paintings are considered core to the Berkshire Museum collection and mark the conclusion of the spring auction season,” said Save the Art – Save the Museum spokesperson Hope Davis. “Our presence outside the auction house is intended to emphasize that current law does not adequately protect these important collections held in the public trust.”
The current demonstration will occur just prior to Sotheby’s American Art Sale at 10 a.m., in which the last four of the initial 13 works of art removed from the Berkshire Museum’s collection will hit the block. These 13 works form the first of three tranches that include 39 of the 40 deaccessioned. One painting, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, by Norman Rockwell was sold in advance of the auctions for an undisclosed sum to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, under construction in Los Angeles. On May 14, works by Henry Moore and Francis Picabia were sold at auction and on May 16 a sculpture by Alexander Calder was sold. The Tuesday, May 22 auction will offer five works in the European and Old Master paintings categories, including paintings by Bouguereau (2), Pasini, and Isenbrandt (2). In Wednesday’s auction, Blacksmith’s Boy, Heel and Toe, another important Rockwell, will be offered along with a major landscape by Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, a portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale, and a still life by John LaFarge.
Save the Art – Save the Museum invites fellow supporters to join the permitted protest at Sotheby’s on Monday, May 14 from 5:45 to 7 p.m. at 1334 York Avenue in New York City.
The protest is timed to coincide with the auction of two of 40 deaccessioned works of art from the Berkshire Museum’s collection at the ‘Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale’. This is the first of Sotheby’s spring fine art auctions that include works donated to the community and entrusted to the Berkshire Museum.
“Our presence outside the auction house is intended to discourage other institutions from attempting similar unethical deaccession practices. The laws do not adequately protect publicly held collections from a not-for-profit’s temptation to cash in works held in the public trust,” said Save the Art – Save the Museum spokesperson Hope Davis.
“Since Attorney General Maura Healey allowed the Berkshire Museum’s sale to go forward, we have begun to see the damaging effect of this precedent-setting decision that breaks an essential tenet of art stewardship for museums across the United States,” said Davis. “Selling artwork for capital improvements or to balance budgets is considered unethical in the museum world and is opposed by The American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors.”
Norman Rockwell's “Shuffleton's Barbershop”, said to be the artist’s best painting as well as the most valuable artwork selected for deaccession by the Berkshire Museum, was sold several weeks ago to The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles for an undisclosed sum. The Lucas Museum, co-founded by the creator of the “Star Wars” movies, George Lucas, is expected to open in late 2022. Last year, Sotheby's estimated the value of the painting at $20 to $30 million.
Questions posed by those opposing the sale were gathered and published as an opinion editorial in the Berkshire Eagle on May 3.
(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.