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.
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.”
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.