Legal Threats Mount for Berkshire Museum as Deaccession Controversy Rages On

With only a month to go before the sale, the Massachusetts attorney general and community activists are stepping up.

Is the Berkshire Museum’s plan to sell off part of its art collection against the law? The Massachusetts attorney general is investigating the controversial decision, which has sparked a controversy that shows no signs of abating only a month before Sotheby’s is set to auction 40 of the museum’s works, including those by Norman Rockwell, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Alexander Calder.

The Berkshire Eagle reported this week that officials from the attorney general’s office met with museum executives to find out whether the sale violates state laws governing the deaccessioning of material donated to non-profit institutions. Because the investigation is ongoing it remains unclear what was discussed in the meeting, but the paper reported that a formal announcement on the investigation is coming soon.

Meanwhile, a group opposing the sale, Save the Art-Save the Museum, launched a crowdsourcing effort to raise money to fund public outreach and a potential lawsuit and injunction.

Norman Rockwell, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop. Courtesy Berkshire Fine Arts.

Norman Rockwell, Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop (1966). Courtesy of Berkshire Fine Arts.

On its Go Fund Me page, the group writes that the sale must be stopped in order to preserve the region’s cultural heritage: “The Museum’s ‘New Vision’ violates the public trust, flouts long-held museum ethics, and sets a damaging precedent that will be felt in museums and cultural institutions across the country. It dishonors the founders and stewards of the museum’s past and deprives future generations of their cultural inheritance.”

Speaking to the Berkshire Eagle, Leslie Ferrin, a representative of the group, said that they are exploring all possible avenues to stop the sale. “There are legal actions underway. We are raising money to support them,” she confirmed. At the time of publication, the group had raised $9,025.

Meanwhile, a separate group opposing the sale started an online petition on that has so far collected 1,437 signatures. “We believe that the these works are part of the irreplaceable cultural legacy of Pittsfield and Berkshire County,” the petition states. “We support the Museum’s future viability. We ask the board to PAUSE and reconsider their decision.”

Despite the backlash, the museum insists that the sale is necessary to bolster its endowment to finance essential building renovations and secure the future of the small institution.

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