A collection of this scope and quality, its location in a small city, and its unique value to such a community was exceptional, and emblematic of American ideals valuing egalitarian access to arts and culture. To put it up for sale was outrageous and unprecedented. The clandestine maneuverings of the Museum’s board of directors added to the controversy, feeding the suspicion that even they knew that what they were attempting to do was wrong.
Community outrage at the Berkshire Museum’s actions led to formation of Save the Art, which organized protests in Pittsfield, Boston, and New York. STA’s active media campaigns publicized the story and helped fund legal battles in the Pittsfield and Boston courts. Recognizing the unprecedented nature of the sale and its profound implications, the New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times, among many other national publications, reported on and examined the story.
While the Berkshire Museum story is not unique in the current environment where non-profits face economic pressures, its flagrant disregard of long-established standards threatens public collections across the country. Museums, libraries, and historical societies are all negatively affected by the repercussions of the sale, as not-for profit boards now have a precedent, and therefore freer rein to dip into the public trust when in financial trouble.
Too expensive in the current market for most other museums to acquire, these works, when offered for sale, primarily go into private hands, unlikely to be seen in public again. Of the twenty-two works ultimately sold by the Berkshire Museum, only two were purchased by public museums.