Berkshire Museum sale, a terrible idea

One of my favorite small museums up here has decided to eviscerate itself in order to fund itself, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. On their website they say they are taking a "new direction", what this really is a money grab, as the board and director cannot figure out how to raise funds to keep the place open. The plan is to sell 40 of their most important paintings and works of art, to raise money to fund their endowment and become more of an educational institution.

I think this is a terrible idea. I love small regional museums, and the Berkshire Museum is a fine example. Housed in a handsome compact Beaux art brick building, it has a fine small collection of paintings including pieces by such luminaries such as Frederich Church, Norman Rockwell, an Alexander Calder, and many others.

Frederic Church's, Valley of the Santa Ysabel, 1875

I was just in Pittsfield this past April and took the photo above, as it is a particularly beautiful Frederic Church painting. Unfortunately it is one of the 40 works slated to be sold at auction this fall, to fund the new vision of the director.  I am sure they can raise a fair amount of money from the sale, but the result will be an impoverished institution, and community. What will remain will be a newly conceived museum focusing on science and history with art as an afterthought. I don't think that this is what the founders of the museum intended when they gave the paintings they plan to sell.

One would think that the museum board would have learned from the story of the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, N. That museum sold off its major antiquities and other historic works of art to fund the purchase of contemporary and modern work that the then director deemed more central to the mission of the museum. And now that director has left the museum and the museum is remade in his image, impoverished and a place not worth a visit. I'm sure they don't care whether someone like me goes to their museums, after all they are looking for the great unwashed public to come to them in droves.  However isn't the mission of a museum to raise the awareness and educate the public and not cater to their taste?

One of the pleasures of going to a small regional museum such as the Berkshire Museum is to see great works of art in a smaller and more intimate setting than one of the big museums and you also get a sense of the areas history and ambitions through their collection.  The bequests tell you something about the history of the area, as the patrons were wealthy community members intent on improving their city. Seeing a Church painting like the one above, in this setting, allows one to focus on it more than one would in a larger museum.