• Open Letter to the Berkshire Museum’s Board of Trustees

    by  • October 30, 2017 • Calls to Action, News, Opinions

    October 27, 2017

    Massachusetts Artists’ Leaders Coalition

    Open Letter to the Berkshire Museum’s Board of Trustees

    The Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) is a collation of artists from all disciplines ensuring that artists have a voice in public dialogs, decisions, and key public policy impacting the artist community and creative economy. MALC applauds the news of the recent filings by Foley Hoag LLP and Sullivan & Worcester LLP to halt the sale of works donated to the Berkshire Museum, specifically in support of “the people of Berkshire County and the general public.”

    MALC strongly opposes the Berkshire Museum’s decision to add to its endowment with proceeds from the sale of artwork within its collection that iconic artists such as Norman Rockwell personally donated on behalf of the community he loved. Despite forceful objection from the Rockwell family, artist Tom Patti, and various museum donors, these important works, when sold, will most certainly go to private collections, disappearing from public view forever.

    We therefore oppose the Berkshire Museum’s proposed sale of donated artwork for the following reasons:

    Violation of Massachusetts Law

    The decision to sell works of art donated specifically “for the people of Berkshire County and the general public” appears to constitute an abuse of the trust expected by the donors, under Chapter 12, Section 8H of Massachusetts General Laws.

    Violation of International Ethical Standards

    Deaccessioning to add to a museum’s endowment is in direct violation of international ethical standards:

    A museum may transfer an object to another museum or sell it, but if a deaccessioned object is sold, museum professional ethics require the proceeds from the sale be used only to acquire new objects for the collection or provide direct care of the collection. http://www.aam-us.org/resources/ethics-standards-and-best-practices/questions-and-answers-about-selling-objects-from-the-collection

    Abrogation of Trust: the Artist, the Museum, the Public

    An art museum holds a special place in the interrelationships among the artist, the museum, and the public. Through the museum, the artist connects to the public. When the artist or someone on the artist’s behalf donates the artist’s work to the museum, there is a tacit expectation and agreement that the museum will hold the work for periodic public display and for the benefit of the public unless a special understanding has been formed in writing. When a museum sells this art, it breaks this trust not only for that museum but also for the relationships of other artists to all museums and the public. Without public trust, donations to such a museum will likely decrease.

    Disrespect of Artists’ Labor and Work Products

    If the artist has chosen to donate the product of his or her labor to the museum, the artist has chosen to have the work available for the public and not for sale to private individuals. Sale to a private individual takes it out of the public domain and violates the artist’s intention. In addition, under Massachusetts law, artists donating work are only allowed to deduct costs of materials used in making the work, not its fair market value. If the work is sold, the artist has no resale royalty rights to allow recompense of a fair share of the seller’s profit. This is a double whammy for artists added on top of the trust issue. It will not encourage artists to donate work.

    For these reasons, and in the interest not only of artists but also of the long-term health of the Berkshire Museum, MALC respectfully urges the museum not to proceed with its sale of the art that artists have entrusted to it.

    The MALC Steering Committee

     Important Reminder

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    The goal of the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) is to ensure that Massachusetts artists of all disciplines have a voice in public dialogs, decisions, and key public policy initiatives that impact the artists community and the creative economy. MALC works to ensure that artists have a permanent place at the policy making table.