Protesters to Berkshire Museum: Art is 'Not For Sale'

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PITTSFIELD — There was a significant percentage of people at Saturday morning's protest in front of the Berkshire Museum who admitted to being angry. Others said they were frustrated by the museum's plan to sell at total of 40 pieces of art to finance a renovation and create a permanent endowment for the organization.

But Thomas Reardon was there because he didn't understand the museum's plan.

"I've worked with museums all over the Northeast," said Reardon, who formerly worked in the printing industry. He is now retired, but part of his job was creating print replicas of museum art. "The Guggenheim, the Clark, museums all over the place. And I've never heard of a museum doing what these folks are doing. Never heard of a museum selling its art to make money. I just don't understand it."

Reardon is clearly not alone.

Last month, the Berkshire Museum's 22-member Board of Directors approved the sale of 40 pieces of artwork from its permanent collection. The sale has been planned, in part to fund renovations to the structure, as well as create an endowment. The art, mostly paintings by such artists as Norman Rockwell, Albert Bierstadt and George Inness, will be auctioned off at Sotheby's. The museum's administration has indicated the sale is in part because the pieces do not necessarily align with the proposed new direction in which the museum plans to embark.

The sale has sparked considerable comment — and controversy. On Saturday, a group of organizers hosted a "Save the Art" rally on the sidewalk in front of the museum. The number of protesters waxed and waned, as people came and left the rally for various reasons — many because they had to get to work. But crowds went from about 40 to more than 75 throughout the four-hour protest.

The protesters were peaceful, and did not attempt to block patrons from entering the museum.

But their signs and comments clearly illustrated their position.

"This museum is a custodian of this artwork," said Susan Lockwood of Richmond. "It's for the Berkshire community, not the Board of Directors of the museum. It's not theirs to sell."

"Protests are important," said Florence Mason of Stephentown, N.Y. "The museum needs to know that they are being challenged, that the community is not happy with this arbitrary decision."

"No one," said artist Ken Shaw of Adams, "put a piece of art in this museum intending it to end up in someone's living room in India or somewhere else. No one donated their art for that purpose."

Throughout the morning, the protesters brandished signs urging the art be retained. One woman held up a sign listing the 40 pieces of art to be sold. All morning, the protest gleaned support from passing cars, who honked their approval.

"Most of the truck drivers seem to be in favor of this," said local artist Winfield G. Horner.

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977.


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