Frequently Asked Questions About Our New Vision
We’ve been asked a lot of questions about our New Vision for the Museum and are thrilled that the community is so engaged and curious to hear more about our plans. Some of the most common questions are answered below. Please click your question to view its answer.
The Museum has faced a significant budget deficit for many years, which would have eventually forced us to close our doors. Our Board of Trustees chose to take bold action sooner rather than later in order to secure the future of the Museum.
When Zenas Crane founded the Berkshire Museum in 1903, we were the only place in the Berkshires where people could see art, history, or natural science. Over the last 114 years, the Museum has not changed much, but the community around us has. Today, the Museum is surrounded by world class art museums. We plan to continue our arts programming, and heighten our emphasis on science and history to fill that gap in our community.
Our mission is to bring people together for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking by making inspiring educational connections among art, history, and natural science, and that will not change.
The nearly two-year planning process was led by the Berkshire Museum Board of Trustees and Museum leadership. The process began with extensive research to identify the needs of our community, and included input from approximately 400 members of the community including:
- Museum donors, members, and volunteers
- Local business leaders
- Young professionals
- Children in public and private schools
- Full-time residents and second homeowners
- Civic and cultural leaders
The Berkshire Museum’s current Board of Trustees includes individuals with experience in many fields including public schools and higher education, finance, law, business management, media, organizational development, human relations, risk management, and art, history, and science. Most of our Trustees have also served on the boards of other non-profit organizations in the Berkshires and beyond. What they all have in common is their deep love for the people and place we call the Berkshires, and an enduring commitment to ensure the Museum can continue to serve our community for years to come.
A complete list of the Berkshire Museum’s current Board of Trustees can be reviewed here.
The Berkshire Museum is a private, non-profit organization sustained by donations, memberships, ticket sales, and our endowment. The Museum is governed by the Board to serve the needs of our community through its mission: to bring people together for experiences that spark creativity and innovative thinking by making inspiring, educational connections among art, history, and natural science.
The investigation completed by the Attorney General’s Office made clear the severe financial challenges facing the museum, that the Museum Board of Trustees had fulfilled their fiduciary responsibilities, and that meeting those financial challenges and securing the future of the museum would require deaccessioning and sale of a limited number of works from the museum’s collection.
The agreement filed on February 9, 2018 allows the sale of up to 40 previously deaccessioned works from the Museum’s collection and keeps Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop accessible to the public, most immediately here in the Berkshires at the Normal Rockwell Museum. This agreement resolves all legal action between the AGO and the Museum. We believe this agreement will secure the future of the Museum for generations to come.
That is a question for the private plaintiffs currently engaged in litigation against the Museum. But we are hopeful that they will recognize that this resolution promises to keep Shuffleton’s Barbershop in public view, and ensures the survival of the Berkshire Museum and its ability to pursue its mission, providing the people of Berkshire County with important experiences in art, science, and history.
A timeline for action should be expected in the fall. Informed by community input, and supported by a business manager soon to be added to the staff, we will work to create a timeline for major improvements to facilities and experiences before the end of the year. We remain committed to a more interdisciplinary approach to interpreting the Museum’s collection.
Please contact us with any additional questions or concerns.
Questions about Museum Finances
When it became clear that the Museum was not sustainable in its current business model, the Museum’s board and staff began exploring other options. We consulted with hundreds of people from the community to learn what our members and local residents wanted and needed from their community museum, and worked with a team of experts to find a solution that would meet those needs. To make a 2-year-long story short, we decided to make bold changes to save our Museum through a major renovation that will bring this 114-year-old institution into the 21st century, and to create a sizable endowment that will allow the Museum to serve our community for years to come.
Over the past few decades, the Museum has expanded its base of support, recruited new Board members and major donors, explored the idea of merging with other local institutions, and investigated many other options. What we have found is that nothing short of a dramatic, comprehensive solution will secure our future. You can learn more about the Master Planning process here.
The Museum currently raises more than $1 million each year to keep the lights on, our education programs running, and the fish fed. The Museum has also successfully raised $15.5 million in capital (money to be used for improvements to the building) in the past decade. $12.5 million of that capital has been spent upgrading the building’s environmental systems (HVAC) to meet contemporary museum standards, updating the Museum’s passenger elevator, and installing and maintaining systems to ensure the Museum is safe and accessible to all.
An extensive two year planning process that included examining different alternatives, led the Museum’s Board to Trustees to conclude that the serious infusion of capital needed to secure the museum’s future could only be found through deaccessioning and sale, as well as through fundraising.
The Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General conducted an inquiry into the Museum and the proposed sale and also came to recognize that it needed to sell some art to raise the capital needed for the museum to survive. You can learn more about the Museum’s Master Planning process here.
The Office of the Attorney General has acknowledged that the Museum requires $55 million to secure its future and mission, and that the only way to reach that number is through the sale of a small number of artworks from the Museum’s collection. The agreement with the AGO authorizes Berkshire Museum to sell Shuffleton’s Barbershop in a private sale to a nonprofit US museum, and up to 39 other works through Sotheby’s until the total proceeds reach $55 million. Of those funds, $50 million will be unrestricted – the Museum can use it to create a crucial endowment of $40 million, pay down debts, and make necessary updates to the building that will protect the Museum’s collection and update the visitor experience – while the final $5 million will be placed in a restricted fund for the support of the Museum’s collection. If the sale exceeds the total goal of $55 million, all additional funds will be further restricted to support the Museum’s art collection.
Forty objects have been selected by the Museum’s board and staff to leave our more than 40,000-item collection. The complete list of items to be deaccessioned can be found here. The agreement with the AGO is structured so that the Museum may reach its financial goal of $55 million without necessarily selling all 40 works.
The board analyzed our full collection from every aspect and tried to find the solution that would both fund an endowment that would secure the Museum’s future, and result in the smallest number of items being removed from our collection. This is not an easy choice to make, but the Board of Trustees is confident that the 40,000 objects that will remain are the best suited for the Museum’s new vision.
It is not clear if all 40 deaccessioned works will be sold. The agreement with the AGO is structured so that the Museum may reach its financial goal of $55 million without necessarily selling all 40 works.
Of the 14 works offered for sale, 11 were sold at auction, two (including Shuffleton’s Barbershop) through private sale, and one did not sell. Another 26 works were approved for sale but the Board has not yet made any determination about the future of these works.
Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop will be in public view, first at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, and then at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles. Frederic Edwin Church’s painting Valley of Santa Isabel New Granada, 1875, will be on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA). Alexander Calder’s Double Arc and Sphere will be exhibited at the Calder Foundation in New York City.
Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop will be on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, beginning June 9. The painting will be part of the exhibition Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell, and the Narrative Tradition, from June 9 through October 28, 2018. It will continue to be on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum until 2020.
Norman Rockwell’s Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury’s Blacksmith Shop) was sold at auction at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, May 23. The identity of the purchaser has not been disclosed.
Proceeds from the sales now stand at more than $42 million, but because some works were sold in confidential private sales, we cannot reveal the precise amount at this time.
The Museum has always welcomed the offer of private sales and opportunities for works to stay in the public view.
Proceeds from the sale, in the short term, will be invested in local banks, allowing the museum time to make a careful review of what is now possible. We are in the process of engaging an independent consultant who will help the Board of Trustees hire an investment firm to inform the museum’s investment strategy. Per our agreement with the Attorney General, approximately $40 million of the proceeds will go into an endowment to generate operating funds for the museum. Anything more than $55 million will be placed in a designated fund for our art collection. The remainder will be used for building repairs and exhibit upgrades.
Financial decision making by the Board of Trustees will focus on defining priorities. We have put forward ambitious plans for repairing and re-imagining the museum, respectful of its more than century-old building. We must ensure our facilities are updated to contemporary museum standards and will create a platform for exciting new experiences based on community input, true to our mission, and financially sustainable.
Endowments represent money or other financial assets that are donated to museums and are meant to be invested to grow the principal and provide additional income for future investing and expenditures. Typically, an institution takes a percentage “draw” on the interest generated by the endowment to fund operations.
Proceeds from the sale of the first tranche of works (13 pieces) left the museum short of its needed financial goal, making additional sales likely. The Board of Trustees has yet to determine next steps.
Fundraising efforts, including the Museum’s capital campaign, will be reinvigorated. Financial support for the Museum has grown over these past months, with new donors joining and existing donors re-investing. Fundraising will continue, including the Museum’s Annual Gala on July 27, the Membership program, annual fund initiative, grants, and sponsorships. The Capital Campaign will be re-launched in Fall 2018.
Questions about Museum Experiences
The historic exterior of the Museum will remain largely unchanged, while necessary changes will be made to the interior of the building. Our collections storage spaces will be updated to preserve and protect our art, historical objects, and scientific specimens, while proposed new open collection storage will allow visitors to see more of our collections than ever before. Preliminary designs include updated galleries, an expanded and improved aquarium, and modern spaces for film and multi-media presentations. Plans also include increased handicapped accessibility throughout the building.
As we move forward, we will provide opportunities for feedback from the community about how our facilities can serve you better.
Open collection storage is a way of storing objects in the public view.
Art, natural science specimens, and historic objects will be stored in clear cases in public areas of the Museum so that visitors can still see them even when they aren’t being interpreted in the galleries. While the function of this design is primarily storage, the many objects “stored” at or near eye-level will be accessible for up-close viewing and interpretation.
The open storage concept is still in its early stages, and the community will be asked to provide feedback as the design process progresses.
Our fine art collection will continue to include works by Auguste-Francois Bonheur, Alexander Calder, John Singleton Copley, Helen Frankenthaler, Daniel Chester French, Nancy Graves, Keith Haring, Edward Moran, Robert Rauschenberg, Norman Rockwell, Auguste Rodin, John Singer Sargent, and many others.
In our new vision, the galleries will include interpretation that is relevant, interesting, and accessible to all ages and abilities.
The visual arts will continue to play a significant role in the Museum, even as we heighten our emphasis on science and history. In fact, more of our art collection will be on view to the public than ever before.
We are going to be the biggest curio cabinet you’ve ever seen!
The Museum will continue to collect art, historic objects, and scientific specimens, and will continue displaying those items together so that visitors may form new connections among them.
The new vision for the Berkshire Museum includes an expanded and updated aquarium as a part of Our Living World. In the new aquarium, visitors will explore the world around them, from the streams and ponds of New England to exotic environments around the globe, and dive into environmental issues, migratory patterns, and more.
Plans for the new Museum include an expanded and updated passenger elevator at the front of the building and accessible bathrooms on every floor. Our experience team is working to design galleries that will be accessible to all ages and abilities.
The museum will still include science, history, and the arts. But treasured objects from our collection will be presented in a new way that allows science, history, and art to combine in exhibits that provide new interpretations and relevance to historical objects. The plans for the experiences inside the Museum are still in development, but here’s a look at what we expect to include:
In We Shape History, visitors will explore the ways we shape our land, economy, and the world. For example, our extensive rocks and minerals collection can be reinterpreted in new ways to understand human survival and the impact of natural resources on our local and global economy.
Our Living World will feature a significantly expanded and upgraded aquarium that will highlight the streams and ponds of New England as well as exotic environments from around the globe. Visitors will explore local and global environmental issues, migratory patterns, and more through live specimens, natural science objects, and nature-inspired art from our collection.
Our Human Fabric is all about communication, culture, cooking, DNA, and memories. Art and historic objects from the collection will shed light on what makes us human, accompanied by interactive components that will allow visitors to dig deeper than ever into the stories and connections behind each piece.
We Perceive and Process will explore the ways context, environment, culture, and other factors influence how we experience the world around us. Visitors will discover whether their reaction to an object is impacted by the sound or smell in the room, or if their upbringing affects their understanding of a painting. A domed theater will transport visitors to other places around the world and beyond through multi-media and planetarium presentations.
We look forward to sharing engaging the community in conversations about the new experiences coming to the Berkshire Museum as they develop!
This will depend on the final results from both the art sales as well as fundraising. The Museum plans to put the contracts for architectural design and engineering out to bid at a future date (to be determined).
Interdisciplinary interpretation is a way of making connections between science, history, and the arts. When we display a tuba carried in the Civil War, we may look at it as a musical instrument, explore the innovative technology used in its valves, tell stories from battles it was carried into, or even talk about the impact of the silver mined to create the instrument or the work of the artisans who once made such instruments.
Plans for the updated Museum include large gathering spaces and updated facilities for film and other multi-media presentations.
We voluntarily withdrew our Smithsonian Affiliate status effective September 1, 2017, out of respect for the Smithsonian Institution and their relationship with national museum associations that object to our plans to deaccession art to fund an endowment.
If your Berkshire Museum membership currently includes the Smithsonian Affiliate Add-on, your benefits will not be affected by this change. Please contact Lo Sottile at [email protected] if you have any questions about your membership.