PITTSFIELD — In a final report to Attorney General Maura Healey, the Berkshire Museum discloses issues flagged as concerns by Healey’s office. The report was required in the successful 2018 petition to the Supreme Judicial Court that ended state opposition and allowed up to $55 million in art sales. The Eagle obtained attorney William F. Lee’s Oct. 18 report through a public records request. Issues include:
THE SALES: Of 40 works removed from the collection, 22 were sold, netting $53.25 million. Eighteen objects were returned from Sotheby’s to Pittsfield but are not yet reaccessioned due to delays and staffing, according to Executive Director Jeff Rodgers.
PROCEEDS: $45 million was invested with Northern Trust Co. based on advice from Portfolio Evaluations Inc.; $5 million is held in an account at Lee Bank for capital projects; and $3.25 million sits in a Lee Bank account to be used only for the good of the collection under terms of the court ruling. Rodgers said the museum plans to draw no more than 3.2 percent from its investment fund in any year.
PITTSFIELD — With investment income now covering one-third of its budget, the Berkshire Museum is back in supporters’ mailboxes with an upbeat report — and a different kind of “ask.”
The appeal will test public willingness to donate to a nonprofit whose leaders in 2017 opted to close operating deficits by cashing out much of its most valuable works of art.
In his first Annual Fund appeal since joining the museum as executive director last spring, Jeff Rodgers skips what he terms the typical money pitch. It is the first such campaign since the museum raised $53.25 million by selling 22 pieces from its collection.
“This has been anything but a typical year,” Rodgers writes.
Jeff Rodgers stands within “She Shapes History.” In celebration of the 100th year since women won the right to vote, the exhibit has gathered local voices who helped to make it happen, from Elizabeth Freeman to Susan B. Anthony. He imagines conversations in the galleries on winter nights over a glass of wine and guides welcoming visitors in museum-hack style. He came to the Berkshire Museum as executive director last spring, after serving as chief operating officer for the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida. He has more than 20 years’ experience in museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Deja Vu – for those of us who worked so hard on Save the Art – Save the Museum in behalf of the art collection at the Berkshire Museum, the news that Di Rosa Foundation has decided to sell art as the only solution to financial woes comes as no surprise. The Berkshire Museum executed a precedent setting sale in 2018 and while there are obvious differences between the two institutions and their collections, the choice to sell to save an institution is the common ground. Museums that adhere to selling art and accepted professional standards typically reinvest in the collection. These institutions are likewise under increased pressure to use sales to reinvigorate or shift the collections, however the two types of sales should not be conflated. The Berkshire Museum’s chosen path of exchanging a collection for financial stability is a slippery slope and one that the Berkshires are still sliding down. Two years later, despite wide international attention and outcry, expensive and protracted legal battles, Sotheby’s succeeded in its sale of important regional treasures and opened pandora’s box. The Berkshire Museum’s name now appears as a cautionary tale every time the word “deacession” appears regardless of where or why. Two years later, our museum is no closer to being a vibrant viable and sustainable museum, despite the influx of cash, our community remains divided with former leadership and staff dispersed. As we’ve all seen, it is leadership that matters when problems become insurmountable. Those of us who came together asSave the Art – Save the Museum express solidarity with our colleagues in CA and sincerely hope they succeed in slowing down the march to market of this important regional collection.
The board of the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, located in Napa, California, has made a big decision, and in the process angered a number of artists. Specifically, the board of the Rene and Veronica di Rosa Foundation, has decided to sell the bulk of its collection. The board says that its budget cannot support the costs of caring for the collection. In a letter reprinted in the Chronicle, director Robert Sain writes that the museum intends to use revenues from deaccessioning to “grow the endowment to provide a sustainable future of the organization, including the proper care of the arts that will remain in the collection, which has now, at great expense, been safely housed in climate controlled storage.” The alternative, Sain claims, is to “close our doors forever.”
But many in the arts community are unpersuaded by such explanations. Nearly 150 artists, galleries, and other art world stakeholders have signed a letter communicating their opposition to the sale of art works. They claim the di Rosa collection is “the only collection in the world dedicated exclusively to the history of post-World War II art in Northern California in all its diversity of media, gender, race, and philosophy.”
The di Rosa museum does not actively collect work anymore; it contains about 1,600 works collected by Rene and Veronica di Rosa before Rene’s death in 2010. The mission stated on its Form 990 calls the collection “the most significant holding of [San Francisco] Bay Area art in the world.”
Laurie Norton Moffatt was majoring in art history at Connecticut College in 1977 when she did a summer internship at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. She didn’t know much about one of America’s most iconic illustrators back then.
But that summer proved to be an eye-opening experience. Norton Moffatt, who grew up in Pittsfield after moving to the Berkshires from suburban New York City, joined the museum full-time after graduating from college the following year and has never looked back.
“I knew what a lot of other people of my age knew,” said, Norton Moffatt, who was 19 at the time. “That my parents had a big coffee table book of his pictures.”
In 1986, Norton Moffatt became the director and CEO of the Rockwell Museum, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.
Norton Moffatt made headlines in 2017 when she was one of the first local advocates to speak out against the Berkshire Museum’s plans to sell 40 of its pieces at auction — including two Rockwell paintings — to raise funds for an endowment and renovations. That helped ignite a groundswell against the project and a vetting of the plan by the State Attorney General’s Office. The museum eventually decided to retain 18 of the 40 artworks slated for the auction block. “Shuffleton’s Barbershop” — an evening-time peak through the window of a barbershop where men have gathered to play music in the backroom — was still sold. New owner, filmmaker George Lucas, has loaned it to the Rockwell Museum, where it will be on display through next year.
Becoming an executive director of any generic nonprofit would pose challenges in this day and age but the challenges facing Jeffrey Rodgers, the new executive director of the Berkshire Museum, are unique and particularly formidable. He is charged with taking the museum forward following a controversial art sale that fractured the Pittsfield’s institution’s relationship with the community and with the larger museum and art world. If the museum is to succeed by any measure, the new executive director and the board of trustees will have to heal wounds that are deep and still open.
The museum’s decision to sell off cherished art, including work by Norman Rockwell, to raise money to pay off debts and pursue a “New Vision” generated a furor that extended well beyond the Berkshires. A state Supreme Judicial Court order issued in response to lawsuits attempting to block the sale allowed the museum to sell up to $55 million worth of art. With the departure of executive director Van Shields, Mr. Rodgers, the provost and chief operating officer of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Fla., was hired and arrived in Pittsfield a month ago with the controversy still smouldering.
In an editorial board meeting at The Eagle on Tuesday, Mr. Rodgers said the sale of 22 artworks brought in $53.25 million and that no further sales are coming (Eagle, May 8). All of the art works that had been up for sale but were not purchased are back in the museum, with the exception of one that is still to be shipped. The end of the sale of art won’t close any wounds but it should prevent them being widened any further.
PITTSFIELD — Now that the controversial art sales have come to a close, the Berkshire Museum team is focusing on infrastructure needs, and repairing relationships with the local and museum communities, Executive Director Jeff Rodgers said Tuesday.
The sale of 22 works from the museum’s collection brought in $53.25 million, about $1.75 million less than allowed by a Supreme Judicial Court order last year.
“We brought all of the art back in-house, so it’s all back with us except one piece, which is being conserved, and that will be shipped back to us,” Rodgers said. “We are done with that process.”
Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle December 8, 2018
The Berkshire Museum agreed to pay its former executive director $92,000 to leave his post last June, a month after the institution sold a dozen of its most valuable works.
When Van Shields abruptly left the museum June 26, both he and his employer declined to speak about the financial terms of his departure, which came nearly one year after he trumpeted a “New Vision” for the 105-year-old institution that hinged on selling prized works from its collection.
On November 14, Save the Art–Save the Museum (STA) will receive 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.
SAVE THE ART (STA) A grassroots citizens group established in 2017 with the intent of stopping the sale of the Berkshire Museum’s treasured art collection in order to find an alternate solution to its continued financial shortfall.
The mission of Save the Art is to advocate for and protect the Public Trust — the art and objects belonging to all of us that document humankind’s creative and social history through time.
We thank the Berkshire Eagle for their extensive investigative coverage, the journalists, op-ed writers and our community for their hundreds of letters of concern and applaud Larry Parnass / Investigations Editor for his 2018 Outstanding Journalism award. See The Berkshire Eagle page located in Press menu.