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.
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.
I just spent a lovely weekend in the Berkshires, which included (of course) a stop at the Berkshire Museum. My trip coincided with the publication of an open letter from the museum’s president, Buzz McGraw, where she says that while she understands the “shock, sadness and anger” which greeted her decision to sell of the museum’s masterpieces, “the vitriol that some have expressed has been disheartening”.
The letter is a positive development, for two reasons. Firstly, McGraw says that she and the museum’s director, Van Shields, are now willing and able to talk about what they decided to do: I have, of course, put in my own request. And secondly, near the bottom of a related FAQ, the museum links to some updated financials, which help to answer some of the open questions.