Berkshire Museum Director Van Shields Retiring
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The director who lead the Berkshire Museum through the most controversial period in its century-long history is leaving.
The retirement of Executive Director Van Shields was announced on Thursday morning in a statement from the museum. David Ellis, former president and director of the Museum of Science in Boston, will step in in the interim as the museum undertakes a national search for Shield's successor.
"We are grateful for Van's leadership and vision, especially through a challenging time," said Elizabeth McGraw, president of the museum's board of trustees. "Van helped chart a course to secure the museum's future, true to our mission and responsible to our community. We wish our friend well in his retirement."
Shields joined the museum in September 2011 aiming to increase its relevance to the community and ensure the museum became financially sustainable. Among other accomplishments during his tenure, the museum increased its programming based on interdisciplinary interpretation, launched the WeeMuse early childhood education program, and expanded its educational services to area schools, more than doubling the number of student experiences delivered each year since he arrived.
Shields played a key role in fundraising for improvements to the museum including securing the largest government grant and largest foundation gift in the museum's history. Working with his colleagues and the museum's board of trustees, he played a key leadership role in developing the museum's master plan announced in July 2017.
The plan involved the selling off of dozens of artworks in the museum's vast collection to fund renovations, new programming and an endowment to ensure the museum's future financial health. That set off a storm of controversy both locally and nationally, lawsuits, an investigation by the attorney general's office and condemnation from museum directors and organizations.
In a deal worked with the AGO and the Supreme Judicial Court, the museum is in the process of selling no more than 40 works to reach a target goal of $55 million. The greatest contention was over the sale of "Shuffleton's Barbershop," a Norman Rockwell work donated to the museum but the artist himself. Rockwells' family filed suit against the museum but agreed the AGO's settlement. The piece was purchased by George Lucas for an undisclosed price for his under-construction Los Angeles museum with the condition it be exhibited locally and within Massachusetts for a period of time. It's currently on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
"I have been honored and privileged to lead this extraordinary museum and its talented staff. Working with a board of dedicated and smart volunteers, along with community partners who share our belief in the museum's power to transform lives, we have charted a course that will well serve the museum and this community," Shields said in the statement.
Ellis has more than 30 years of museum experience, specifically in planning, organizational development, board relations/governance, fundraising and administration/operations. He was withe the Museum of Science from 1990 to 2002 and has stepped in as interim leader for the Boston Children's Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History. He also served as a member of the board of directors of American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the board of advisers for the MIT Museum.
"I look forward to working with the board of trustees, the museum leadership, and the staff to make the transition that secures the course to a strong and sustainable future," said Ellis.
Nina Garlington will move to a new position supporting Ellis as chief of staff, responsible for coordinating museum planning and programming across departments. A new chief engagement officer will be named. No other staff changes are planned, according to museum officials.
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