In 2018 a $53.25 million dollar sale resulted in the loss of 22 of the community’s most valuable works of art, held in trust by the Berkshire Museum. The sale, brokered by Sotheby’s and ultimately sanctioned by the State of Massachusetts, resulted in the transfer of the majority of these pieces to private ownership. Use of the net proceeds is somewhat restricted and interest generated from the $40 million dollar endowment currently used to support general operating expenses. This sale took place before COVID-19. The proceeds were not sought for nor are they used to diversify the collection or address staff pay equity.This precedent setting sale and the use of the funds continues to fuel current debate about deacession in general—how and why it is done, and the broad consequences related to professional practices.
Locally, the impact on our community is no less complex. Decisions made behind the scenes by the board, former leadership and legal advisers ultimately led to the loss of our art, cultural heritage and impact both present and future generations. We continue to watch and observe the museum’s role in the community and live with the consequences of those decisions on our small, regional museum that still has the word ART in its name.