Berkshire Eagle/Our Opinion: Tough challenge faces new museum director

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s parachute designs, the Berkshire Museum’s new director, Jeff Rogers, works on building a parachute of his own with Craneville Elementary School students during his first week at the museum in Pittsfield on April 5. Eagle File Photo

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.

New leader seeks dialogue to bridge Berkshire Museum’s past, future

Jeff Rogers
Jeff Rodgers, who began his role as executive director of the Berkshire Museum about a month ago, said that he has since received emails and Facebook messages from people who were unhappy with the direction the museum had taken regarding art sales but welcomed him to the community, regardless. Eagle File Photo

by Haven Orecchio-Egresitz

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.”

Filing details Shields’ severance package from Berkshire Museum

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. 

Van Shields, proponent of controversial art sales, bows out at Berkshire Museum

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
June 28, 2018

PITTSFIELD — After taking the helm at the Berkshire Museum in 2011, Van Shields surprised his new colleagues by talking about “monetizing” the Pittsfield institution’s collection.

It took six years, but talk brought results: The museum holds $47 million in proceeds from recent art sales, with another $8 million expected. It seems a “mission accomplished” moment for Shields — and on that note he’ll bow out.

Berkshire Museum plans to sell 9 more works, bringing total to 22

Albert Bierstadt’s Giant Redwood Trees of California – 1874. A gift to museum from founder Zenas Crane III.

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
June 25, 2018

PITTSFIELD — Nine more Berkshire Museum works will be sold in coming months, the institution said Monday, in a drive to reach the full $55 million in proceeds allowed by an April court ruling. 

Seven of the works will be sold in private transactions rather than auctions in an attempt to place them with new owners who will preserve public access. 

Berkshire Museum takes steps to improve ‘best practices,’ art sales net $47 million

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
June 20, 2018

PITTSFIELD — Four months after their landmark accord, key points of dispute between the Berkshire Museum and the Attorney General’s Office are back in play.

This time, the “people’s lawyer” is securing pledges of managerial reform from the museum, as the office fulfills its statutory role as overseer of nonprofits and public charities.

Berkshire Museum Board Interview on SoundCloud

Trustees of the Berkshire Museum head into their first board meeting since selling artworks at a “turning point,” having raised more than $42 million to ensure their 115-year-old institution’s survival. But big decisions lie ahead.

Key decisions lie ahead, Berkshire Museum trustees say

Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
June 6, 2018

PITTSFIELD — Trustees of the Berkshire Museum head into their first board meeting since selling artworks at a “turning point,” having raised more than $42 million to ensure their 115-year-old institution’s survival. 

Berkshire Museum Case: Now “Profoundly Accessible”— Yikes!

Martin Gammon, Pergamon Art Group
June 1, 2018

Another day, another statement… Now in the form of an extended release from the board of trustees to the Berkshire Museum community…

In truth, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the PR team at the Berkshire Museum, or whoever has been compelled to compose the blather they have been crafting in their occasional press releases. Rather than honestly and straightforwardly addressing the raft of specific allegations of ethical malfeasance by the board and their enablers, they have resorted to tortuous paeans about community building and securing the future, apparently hoping this might divert attention from further exposing their callous disregard of donor intent and the museum’s founding mission. And yet, even these saccharine bromides fail to conceal the dissonant chords rumbling beneath the rhetorical sheen.

Berkshire Museum… To Our Community:

Electronic news from the Berkshire Museum
June 2018

Our most important goal has always been to secure the future of the Berkshire Museum. We want to protect what we consider the museum’s most important asset: our open doors. Reaching that goal has proven more difficult than we could have ever imagined, but it is within reach, allowing the museum to remain the ‘window on the world’ founder Zenas Crane sought to provide this community.

Shuffleton’s Barbershop by Norman Rockwell is on its way back to the Berkshires, to the Norman Rockwell Museum, where it will be on public display. We pulled the painting from auction and agreed to accept a significantly lower price through a private sale that keeps this important work in the public eye. Twelve other works were sold, including two acquired by nonprofits where they will be on public display.

Sanctions Are Imposed on Berkshire Museum for Sale of Artworks

Colin Moynihan, The New York Times
May 27, 2018

One of the country’s professional museum organizations announced on Friday that its board of trustees had voted to impose sanctions on the Berkshire Museum, which recently sold artworks to support an expansion initiative.

“Selling art to support any need other than to build a museum’s collection fundamentally undermines the critically important relationships between museums, donors and the public. When museums violate the trust of their donors and the public, they diminish the opportunity and responsibility to make great works of art available to the public.”

Association of Art Museum Directors