Some are calling for a whole new board of trustees to take over at the museum.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tom Patti considered it a compliment to have his art in the same building as Norman Rockwell and Alexander Calder.
The Berkshire Museum had commissioned his work at the entrance, the foyer, and in three other locations. But now, Patti doesn't feel that the museum values local artists.
"I felt a part of the original mission of the museum and its responsibility to the community. I think that's changed dramatically. It was something very special to the region, not just in Pittsfield," Patti said. "It took over 100 years to invest in the museum and bring the work here and overnight they removed it."
Patti joined with about two dozen others outside of the Berkshire Museum just about one year after museum officials announced their plan for a "new vision." That plan calls for the creation of an endowment, renovations to the interior, and revamping the museum's offerings. But it came at the cost of art, which is being sold to make up the revenues.
"I was here and it was a great compliment for the past board and director to acquire my work and create the installations. But what they did is, they disregarded the local artists and all of the artists who have contributed to the museum over the years, including Norman Rockwell, who lived in the area and was a big part of the museum here, and Alexander Calder," Patti said.
The sale of the art has been an ongoing ordeal since the announcement. A large swath of the community was outraged with the museum's intentions and fought fiercely over it. After court cases and an investigation from the attorney general's office, the museum was given the OK to proceed with its plans. It can sell up to $55 million worth of art and has just one more sale pending to reach that.
"The $8 million is the final divide in the community. It is the final screw you to the community. They don't care what the community thinks," Carol Diehl said.
The museum has said the sale is needed to right a financially sinking ship. Every year the museum operates with a $1 million structural deficit. Opponents, however, don't believe that selling the pieces of art is the way to go and say the museum could have solved its fiscal problem other ways.
The group Save the Art has been opposing the sales and had organized the rally on Saturday. Diehl said it isn't too late for the museum to pause and engage with the community.
"They've made all the money they need. They've made more than any museum or any institution of this size would need. We would like them to take this opportunity to join with the community, keep these significant works of art, work with the community and do what they said they were going to do -- be transparent, show us their arrangement with Sotheby's, engage with the community, and keep art as one of their values," Diehl said.
While the museum has sold off most of the work it intended, those opposing the sale still have hope that some pieces can be saved.
Throughout the first round of sales, Hope Davis remained optimistic that an Albert Bierstadt piece ("Giant Redwood Trees of California") would remain in the community. Bierstadt is one of the Hudson River School painters, who had significant ties to the region. That could be the centerpiece of an art education program, she said. The Bierstadt is part of this last round of sales, which are expected to be private.
"There is no programming centering on historical art because, frankly, it is a board that is not particularly interested in it," Davis said. "They wouldn't have gone ahead with these sales if they understood and respected the art."
Diehl said many of the paintings that have been sold are main draws for the museums that bought them. She believes there is still a chance to preserve a strong art collection at the Berkshire Museum and have those pieces be the draw here instead of somewhere else.
But the protestors aren't very confident that the museum will pause and engage with them to do so. Patti said he doesn't believe anything will change unless there is a new board of trustees at the museum. He said if the museum could halt its direction and work with the community, many of the wounds caused by the sale could heal.
"If they come forward with the truth, I think many people would forgive and go forward," Patti said.
If the museum doesn't, the opposition will continue with Save the Art turning its attention to every dime the museum spends.
"Now there is $55 million of what we consider our money to be spent. We're not going away. Either they engage with us, or if they don't, we will be their watchdog," Diehl said.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to email@example.com.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
We show up at hurricanes, budget meetings, high school games, accidents, fires and community events. We show up at celebrations and tragedies and everything in between. We show up so our readers can learn about pivotal events that affect their communities and their lives.
How important is local news to you? You can support independent, unbiased journalism and help iBerkshires grow for as a little as the cost of a cup of coffee a week.