Save the Art – Save the Museum to Hold Informational Rally
Friday, Dec. 15, American Alliance of Museums Conference, Cambridge, MA
The meeting of museum professionals will address intervention strategies to prevent deaccessioning of public collections
PITTSFIELD, Mass. (Dec. 13, 2017) – The Berkshire-based citizens group Save the Art – Save the Museum will stage a rally outside Harvard University, Friday, Dec. 15, in connection with a national meeting of museum professionals organized by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and hosted by the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture. Save the Art – Save the Museum has garnered international coverage as a grass roots collective opposing the sale of 40 artworks by the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield.
Save the Art invites fellow supporters to join their permitted rally, which will be held on the sidewalk to Harvard University’s Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge, on Friday, Dec. 15, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Cambridge rally was co-organized by Save the Art – Save the Museum members Michael Morin of Newton and Sara Clement of Pittsfield.
“I will be in Cambridge to share our community’s experience, offer a warning to other communities, and bring attention to the efforts of AAM and other cultural organizations shedding light on the thorny issue of selling works held in the public trust,” Clement said. “If the Berkshire Museum’s sale succeeds in Pittsfield, the precedent it sets will threaten all public collections in the Commonwealth. It would allow all not-for-profit boards to monetize collections by claiming financial crisis, even if the crisis was the result of poor management.”
The conference, titled “Don’t Raid the Cookie Jar: Creating Early Interventions to Prevent Deaccessioning Crises,” has been convened to address “the timely issue of deaccessioning.” It was organized in the wake of the Berkshire Museum controversy, which is currently the subject of an investigation by the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The rally is designed to supply informational outreach and to support the protection of cultural collections everywhere.
Officially designated a “workshop,” the event will be held Dec. 14-15, in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD); the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG), and the New England Museum Association (NEMA). The intent of the meeting, as stated on the AAM website, is to create practical interventions to deaccessioning via a combination of lectures, working sessions, and a plenary discussion. For more about the conference, see www.aam-us.org/events/don’t-raid-the-cookie-jar
Alternatives Exist for Troubled Museums
“We’re encouraged to see grass roots efforts such as Save the Art – Save the Museum supporting the standards of the museum field,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the AAM, in a joint statement on behalf of AAM and AAMD. “We agree that museum collections are held in the public trust and must not be treated as disposable financial assets. And we remain willing and available to work with the Berkshire Museum to identify and support the implementation of alternatives to the sale of collections that they are currently pursuing. We sympathize with museums across the US facing financial challenges. This is why our December 14-15 workshop is focused on finding practical solutions to help museums avoid financial crises.”
Shared Cultural Heritage
“The AAM convening is an opportunity to reaffirm longstanding standards for collections management and care so that museums continue to enjoy the public support they have earned,” said Massachusetts Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker. Walker, who has come out against the Berkshire Museum’s proposed sale, added, “Our nonprofit museums hold a unique position as stewards of our shared cultural heritage, and as such have a special responsibility to ensure public trust.”
The Berkshire Museum controversy has brought international attention to the unsanctioned sale of art and other treasures from public institutions.
“Since July, the world has watched our community’s struggle,” said Leslie Ferrin, a founding member of Save the Art. “Now, during this pause provided by the court-ordered injunction on the Sothebys sale, word continues to spread about the museum’s efforts to change the way museums fund their goals. “The legal impact of our museum’s efforts to sell for reasons other than to directly benefit the collection would be devastating,” Ferrin said. “The consequences will be felt not just in the Berkshires but everywhere public collections and properties are held in public trust. It is not only art that will disappear from public view should they succeed.”
Protect the Public Trust
“This is a test of the legal system and its ability to legislate between the financial claims of the Berkshire Museum and the protection the public collections,” said Morin, originally from Pittsfield. “If the sale goes through, then public lands, public buildings, and cultural collections are at risk. Nothing will be safe anymore.”
Save the Art
Save the Art – Save the Museum is a citizens’ group dedicated to serving and preserving the integrity of the Berkshire Museum and its collections. It began as a grass roots effort on social media shortly after the Museum announced plans for the sale in July. Members now meet regularly to organize opposition to the deaccession as well as to educate the public on viable alternatives to it.
Save the Art began as a spontaneous protest on social media shortly after the Museum announced plans for the sale in July. It currently has more than 2,500 members on its combined Facebook pages, drawing support across the Berkshires and all over the US. Save the Art has gathered more than 2,000 signatures on petitions sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General, and has generated an outpouring of letters of concern to state officials, representatives and the press. The group turned the matter into a state and national issue, with extensive national and international coverage.
Rather Than Sell the Work
Save the Art believes that deaccession of the Rockwells and other masterpieces (including major works by Bierstadt, Church and Calder), dishonors the founders and stewards of the Berkshire Museum’s past and deprives future generations of their cultural inheritance. In pursuing the auction, the Museum betrays its longstanding role as keeper of Berkshire cultural memory. The sale violates the public trust, flouts ethical principles broadly held in the museum community, and sets a damaging precedent for museums and cultural institutions across the nation. Rather than sending these great works into private collections, where they will never be seen in public again, we encourage the Museum to use them as a springboard to establish the Berkshire Museum as one of Massachusetts’ great regional museums of art, history and culture. As such, the Museum would provide access to the county’s art and cultural heritage within walking distance to the children of Pittsfield, attract tourism, and energize the city’s economy.