12th Annual Artists Under the Dome
Great Hall at the State House
November 14, 2018
SAVE THE ART–SAVE THE MUSEUM (STA) received a “Champion of Artists” award from the Massachusetts Artists Leader’s Coalition (MALC) in recognition of its efforts to stop the sale of the Berkshire Museum’s treasured art collection and increase awareness of the critical issue of protection of the Public Trust.
MALC is a statewide coalition formed to ensure that Massachusetts artists have a voice in key public policy initiatives that impact artists and the creative economy. The award honored STA for “the protection of all artists’ rights with regard to their legacy wishes, from donating work to their designated collecting institutions, to protecting work held in the public trust by art museums. We all owe them great thanks.”
STA is a citizens group compromised of 30 core members, and 1500 regional and national supporters from all walks of life. Over the course of 18 months the group organized protests, raised funds for litigations, and served as an advocate and a collective voice for the public who opposed this egregious sale of a major art collection, created and maintained as a public trust since the Museum’s founding by Zenas Crane in 1903. STA’s advocacy has been instrumental in bringing the issue to national attention.
The Museum sell-off included iconic paintings personally donated to the museum by Norman Rockwell, important early works by Alexander Calder, and major Hudson River School landscapes by Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Church, Thomas Moran and others. The Museum’s “New Vision” also proposes altering historic portions of the original building that would destroy beloved site-specific works by Stirling Calder and glass artist, Tom Patti.
Despite widespread public opposition, the Museum’s Board of Trustees, along with the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey (AGO), ignored the advice of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and violated ethical standards of the profession as articulated by the Alliance of American Museums, the Smithsonian Institution, and others.
Initially critical of the sale, the AGO ultimately allowed the museum to manipulate legal loopholes, claiming no legal recourse existed to prevent the sale while simultaneously asserting sole authority to oversee such critical decisions. The Museum was permitted to sell up to $55 million from the sale of up to 40 of its prized works of art, representing the vast majority of the collection’s cultural importance and monetary value.
The issues raised by the Berkshire Museum case are critical to the future protection of public collections:
- In cases of fiscal mismanagement, do checks and balances exist to assure a self-selecting board of trustees is operating professionally and ethically?
- Should the Berkshire Museum’s actions be rewarded with the freedom to manage $55 million raised from the sale of irreplaceable art without accountability from experts in the museum community?
STA will continue to monitor the Berkshire Museum’s actions and will support legislative action to reverse this destructive precedent. The Public Trust belongs to all of us by definition and it will only be preserved for future generations if we take action now.