Reaction Mixed To Berkshire Museum Deal

Feb 14, 2018

There are plenty of complaints about a deal the Massachusetts attorney general struck with Berkshire Museum. 

The deal allows, with some conditions, the museum to sell up to 40 works of art -- including two Norman Rockwell paintings -- to fund renovations and boost its endowment.

A group of Berkshire Museum members said it will press forward in a lawsuit attempting to block the sale.

In a statement released Tuesday, their attorney, Nicholas O'Donnell, took aim at the attorney general's office, which had been against the sale until recently.

“My clients are stunned at the complete reversal by the attorney general’s office in barely two weeks," O'Donnell said. "The petition to which the attorney general’s office has agreed claims to have convinced it that the museum’s financial condition is indeed perilous, yet the office chose not to require any change in the governance or management of the institution by the board that will now be entrusted with a $50 million windfall.”

Leslie Ferrin hopes that appeal is successful.

She's spokeswoman for the group Save the Art, and calls the AG's agreement with the museum "flawed."

"It flaunts all standards of museum practices," Ferrin said. "It leaves the current museum leadership intact, despite all the evidence of the problems that occurred under its watch. And the deaccession issue is a major one."

Two art museum industry groups also have come out against the deal.

A joint statement from the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors also reaffirmed their view that any sale of art by a museum should only be used to add to its collection, and not for other purposes.

"While the negotiated agreement with the Berkshire Museum may satisfy legal standards, it falls far short of ethical standards and best practices for museums. This is indeed a sad day for the arts community in the Berkshires and the museum community across the country," the statement read.

Not all the reaction has been negative: Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said she supports deal and that she was "proud" of the way both entities displayed "leadership" over the last several months.

"The museum and the Attorney General are moving forward together. Let this decision inspire all of us to rally behind the future success of our museum," Tyer said in a statement released by the museum.

And in the same statement, Farley-Bouvier applauded the part of the agreement, which will allow the Berkshire Museum to sell Norman Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" to another U.S. nonprofit museum, which will in turn loan it to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge for up to two years.

The state legislator also looked forward.

"It’s my strong hope that our community can now come together and begin to heal the wounds opened around these issues," Farley-Bouvier said.

The agreement must still must be approved by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.