The Master Planning Process
As we announced on July 12, 2017, the Berkshire Museum has the dual goals of enhancing our community relevance and ensuring fiscal sustainability. For many years, the Museum has been dealing with persistent financial challenges, including an annual structural operating deficit for decades that has been averaging more than $1 million each year beginning in fiscal year 2007. In recent years, we have developed our Board of Trustees and staff with an express purpose of putting these fiscal uncertainties behind us once and for all.
This process also entailed an analysis of the changing economic environment in which we operate: an aging and declining population, the flight of major businesses, disadvantageous shifts in philanthropic priorities, and other socio-economic factors. The outcome of this work led us to the difficult but inevitable decision that, in order to survive, the museum must deaccession works from its collection.
In the past twelve years, the Board of Trustees:
- Launched two multi-million-dollar capital campaigns
- Increased and professionalized our fundraising
- Invested in the testing of programmatic growth
- Systematically and publicly explored a merger with a sister cultural institution
- Engaged professional advisors to help us identify the path forward
The timeline below illustrates our process:
Berkshire Museum launches a capital campaign to fund renovations to the building. Between 2005 and 2008, the Museum raises $10 million in capital pledges, which are used to upgrade the building’s HVAC system to protect our collection, and construct the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation.
The Museum closes for three months for renovations.
Three paintings from the collection are deaccessioned. The funds from the sale of these Russian paintings raise $7.2 million which creates the Keep Crane Fund – a Board-restricted endowment to be used for care of our collection and the acquisition of new artworks.
Executive Director Van Shields is hired.
2012 – 2014
The 21st Century capital campaign is launched to raise endowment funds and to fund additional improvements to the building including humidity controls for the HVAC system, meeting ADA accessibility requirements, and addressing safety needs including fire suppression.
Berkshire Museum and Hancock Shaker Village conclude a strategic partnership study led by Boston-based nonprofit consulting firm TDC. The study reveals the significant need for capitalization in order to provide sufficient endowment for the Berkshire Museum to support its operations. A key takeaway of the study is the fact that the donor community advises that there is not enough capacity to fund the level of capitalization needed to secure the Museum’s future.
The 21st Century Campaign is paused in order to complete the recommended Master Plan so that specific goals could be created.
Berkshire Museum subsequently begins an extensive “Master Planning” process with the following goals:
- Create a sustainable and relevant institution
- Understand capital needs
- Make optimal use of the collections
- Identify risks and opportunities
After a request for qualifications process, the Museum re-engages TDC to facilitate the master planning process.
TDC engages the Providence-based interpretive planning and exhibition design firm Experience Design to help identify scenarios for the Museum’s future and produce an interpretive plan for the scenario ultimately selected.
The Museum’s Board of Trustees, together with TDC and Experience Design, begin a five-phase process that includes a total of seven dedicated Board retreats spread over sixteen months. In total, this provides the Board with over 60 hours of analysis and deliberation.
The Visioning Phase
The Visioning phase seeks to identify as many potential options as possible for the Museum’s future in an open-ended fashion, while identifying key challenges facing Berkshire County. During this phase, the Museum’s Board, staff, and consultants meet with three external advisory groups to generate additional ideas:
- The Stakeholder Advisory Board: an array of individuals from Berkshire County’s business, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors
- The Program Working Group: partner organizations in Berkshire County interested in exploring programmatic collaborations, particularly around education and interdisciplinary experiences.
- The Cultural Partner Working Group: includes leaders from peer environment, history, performing arts and visual arts organizations in Berkshire County.
Interpretive scenarios are developed and presented to the Board for discussion.
The Exploration Phase
The Exploration phase reviews interpretive scenarios from the Visioning phase, including benchmarking of regional and national organizations and local competitive analysis.
Based on input from the three advisory groups, the consulting team suggests that the interpretive scenarios be evolved and reduced to two.
The Exploration phase also identifies capitalization needs of the Museum for the existing business model. These needs include:
- Critical deferred facility maintenance
- Necessary upgrades to collections care
- Balance sheet stabilization
- Additional endowment funds to address the ongoing structural deficit
In early May 2016, the Board agrees to advance two interpretive scenarios into the next phase and discusses the following deaccession-related topics:
- The legal obligations of collecting institutions
- Professional association definitions and standards around deaccessioning and care of collections
- Potential impacts or sanctions that might arise from the use of the proceeds from deaccessioning that might be judged to be out of alignment with association standards
The Testing Phase
The Testing phase brings the two interpretive scenarios to members of the community to gather input and feedback through a series of focus groups. Focus group participants include:
- local children and educators in both public and private schools
- museum donors
- members and volunteers
- young professionals
- business leaders
- second homeowners
The working groups reconvene to review the two scenarios.
In July 2016, the Board agrees with the consulting team’s suggestion to merge the two interpretive scenarios into one final scenario. This Board advances this final scenario into the next phase.
The Modeling Phase
The Modeling phase seeks to identify a path to financial sustainability and discover the level of one-time investments needed to reach that point, and evaluates financial variations created by the consulting team.
In late October 2016, the Board reviews financial variations, as well as an updated interpretive plan, and discusses the likely need to deaccession objects from the collection to realize funds to achieve any of the financial variations presented.
In early December 2016, the Board agrees on a timeline and to produce conceptual designs before making any final selections about which financial variation to pursue.
The Final Selection includes the approval of the Interpretive Plan and a conceptual design process, including architectural renderings and capitalization needs. A draft multi-year financial model is created to illustrate a potential path from current operations through the formal implementation of the New Vision.
During this phase, the staff leadership continued reviewing key objects that would be used in core exhibitions being designed based on the Interpretative Plan approved in December 2016. The process also included the identification of objects that were not necessary to carry out the Museum’s mission or did not contribute directly to meeting the New Vision’s interpretive goal.
With major components of the Master Plan identified, the Museum staff leadership recommends relaunching the 21st Century Campaign with a total goal of $10 million ($5.4 million of which is already raised as of August 2017).
The Master Plan Phase
The Master Plan phase has been underway since the close of the Selection Phase. In this final phase, anticipated to reach completion at the end of 2017, the work developed through the Selection Phase is being crystallized during an iterative process with Board and staff. With the major strategic decisions made, the focus in the Master Plan phase is on how to implement our New Vision.
July 12, 2017
The Board of Trustees votes to implement the New Vision.