PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Museum has released its financial reports in an effort to prove that its controversial sale of artworks was needed to keep the institution open.
The museum posted its independent audit, its federal tax statement Form 990, the Massachusetts state tax statement required as a non-profit, and annual filing for charitable organizations in New York State, which is filed with registration to solicit donations from New York.
"These documents reinforce the conclusions of both the Museum's Board of Trustees and the Office of the Attorney General about the dire financial situation of the museum, including annual operating deficits of more than $1 million that would, eventually, force the museum to close its doors," according to the press release that accompanied the documents.
Museum officials have contended that the century-old entity has faced a structural operating deficit each year to the tune of $1.15 million. The 2017 audit released by the museum and done independently by Adelson & Company PC shows that continued to be the case in 2017.
The audit shows the museum took in $1,482,412 for operational revenues -- that includes such things as fundraising, admissions, special events, and facility rentals. At the same time, the expenses in 2017 were $2,808,622. That left a gap of $1,272,558 that was pulled from its long-term investments.
Those investments had only brought in $613,260 last year, meaning the starting balance in the next fiscal year was $659,298 less. The museum said it has watched its endowment, intended to offset operating costs through its annual returns, and the Keep Crane Fund dwindle for the last decade.
The audit shows the museum's total assets dropping from $19,730, 208 in 2016 to $18,940,743 in 2017.
It was those trends that led the board of trustees to launch a plan to dramatically shake up the museum. It announced its "new vision" last year, which included a full revamping of the exhibits and the museum itself. That plan also called to bolster the endowment for years to come.
That vision, however, sparked controversy because it included the sale of some 40 pieces from the museum's collection. Lawsuits, condemnation from other museum directors, and an investigation was launched by Attorney General Maura Healey.
But after the attorney general dug into the numbers, she worked a deal with the Supreme Judicial Court to allow for the sales but restricted it to $55 million worth.
The greatest contention was over the sale of "Shuffleton's Barbershop," a Norman Rockwell work donated to the museum by the artist himself. Rockwell's family filed suit against the museum but agreed to 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.
After 13 pieces were sold, the museum announced another nine pieces were heading to auction as it worked toward hitting the $55 million mark.
But the outrage hasn't halted. The group Save The Art has scheduled a rally outside of the museum in protest of the sale on Saturday. The rally comes on the anniversary of the museum's announcement of the "new vision" and the group is still calling on the museum to halt any further deaccessioning.
"With $47 million now in the bank, the board cannot claim that it needs to further strip away the collection to keep its doors open," Save the Art contends. "It should not sacrifice the important remaining works by great artists such as Bierstadt, Moran, and Calder just to reach an arbitrary $55 million goal with no specific plan."
Prior to the museum making its financial statements public, Save the Art called on the museum to release its financial information.
"It is also vital for the board to provide information so the community can accurately assess the situation. There are many unanswered questions as to why the board originally decided that this unpopular decision to sell off its art was necessary. The public has a right to know the museum's actual financial situation and whether its contract with Sotheby's had any impact on their resistance to widespread calls to take a pause in the sales," Save the Art wrote.
Museum officials said they had given the financial statements directly to The Berkshire Eagle but the newspaper hadn't published the information.
"Last year, we provided The Berkshire Eagle a detailed briefing on the museum's finances. This year, and more than two weeks ago, continuing in the spirit of transparency, the Berkshire Museum's board and staff directly provided these documents to The Berkshire Eagle along with an interview with key members of the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees," the museum wrote.
"However, because this information has not yet been released or reported on, today [Tuesday] we are making those same documents available directly to the public on the museum's website."
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Pittsfield Community Development Approves Two Marijuana Cultivator Site Plans
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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