Berkshire Museum Defends Deal With Attorney General

Feb 15, 2018

The vice president of the Berkshire Museum's board is defending a deal the museum struck with the Massachusetts attorney general's office. 

That agreement could clear the way for the museum to sell up to 40 pieces of art.

The batch of art includes two paintings by Norman Rockwell.

To pay for renovations and boost its endowment, the Berkshire Museum hopes to sell the art for at least $50 million.

The pact still needs the approval of the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

"Given the fact that the attorney general and the museum have come to an agreement after an investigation and negotiations, I think this is pretty clear what's best for the museum and for the community, so I'm very hopeful that the SJC approves the petition," said Ethan Klepetar, vice president of the Berkshire Museum's board.

There are still other legal hurdles to clear -- two sets of plaintiffs have a pending lawsuit seeking to block the museum from selling the art.

The museum's plans, and this latest agreement, have also drawn criticism from some art museum industry groups. They have said selling art for reasons other than adding to a collection goes against ethical standards.

Klepetar said it's a complicated issue, but in the end, it was all about survival for the museum's board.

"We made a decision that the most ethical thing to do was stay true to our purpose, true to our mission," Klepetar said, "make sure this museum stayed open, make sure it could continue to serve its community and fulfill that educational purpose to educate the kids and the broader community in the arts, sciences and cultural history of human kind."

The renovations would include a shift in focus for the museum to include more interdisciplinary displays featuring the areas Klepetar mentioned. Also planned is work on the more-than-century-old building.

"We've got problems with mold," Klepetar said. "We've got problems with weeping walls. We've got drip from our ceiling that leads to icicles forming on the floor in certain rooms. So we're going to take the steps to fix that. And frankly, we haven't been able to do that in decades, because we simply didn't have enough money."

Potentially on the block are the two paintings by Norman Rockwell.

One of them, "Shuffleton's Barbershop," would be sold to another nonprofit museum in the U.S., which in turn would loan it to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for up to two years.

Correction: An original version of this post misspelled Ethan Klepetar's last name.