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Berkshire Museum Severs Ties with Smithsonian over Controversial Sale of Artworks

The Berkshire Museum, which has faced widespread criticism since it announced that it would sell forty works from its collection in order to raise money to boost its endowment and to fund a major renovation project, has ended its affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution, Amanda Drane of the Berkshire Eagle reports.

“Out of respect for the good relationship we have with the Smithsonian, I initiated a conversation with Smithsonian Affiliations about voluntarily withdrawing our affiliate status because we knew the decision to deaccession art to fund an endowment would not be in compliance with the American Alliance of Museums’ guidelines for the use of proceeds,” Van Shields, the museum’s executive director, said. “We subsequently had thoughtful conversations with our partners at the Smithsonian about the decision the board of trustees took to fund the New Vision, ensuring the relevance and longevity of the Berkshire Museum for another hundred years.”

An auction, which will be run by Sotheby’s, is expected to yield at least $50 million from the sale of artworks by artists such as Norman Rockwell, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Alexander Calder. The proceeds will be put toward the $60 million renovation of its 114-year-old building.

In response to the museum’s decision to sell works, the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors issued the following joint statement: “Such a sale sends a message to existing and prospective donors that museums can raise funds by selling parts of their collection, thereby discouraging not only financial supporters, who may feel that their support isn’t needed, but also donors of artworks and artifacts, who may fear that their cherished objects could be sold at any time to the highest bidder to make up for a museum’s budget shortfalls.”

The Smithsonian Institution currently has 215 affiliates who pay an annual fee of $3,000 to gain access to its resources, including its vast collection, scholars, educational programs, and development opportunities. If the Berkshire Museum wanted to remain in the Smithsonian’s Affiliates program, it would be allowed to use monies obtained from the upcoming sale only for acquisitions or the maintenance of its collections.