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Berkshire Museum executive director Van Shields. Photo: the Berkshire Eagle.

Berkshire Museum’s Executive Director to Step Down

Van Shields, the executive director behind the Berkshire Museum’s controversial plan to deaccession artworks in order to bolster its endowment and fund a renovation project, has announced that he is retiring. The news comes on the heels of the museum’s decision to sell nine more artworks as it strives to reach its $55 million fundraising goal. The insitution has already sold thirteen works at auction and in private sales.

“We are grateful for Van’s leadership and vision, especially through a challenging time,” board president Elizabeth McGraw said in a statement. “Van helped chart a course to secure the museum’s future, true to our mission and responsible to our community.”

Shields joined the museum in September 2011. During his tenure, the Berkshire expanded its programming and increased the educational services it provides to local schools. Shields was also instrumental in developing the museum’s new master plan, which was released in July of 2017.

The plan—which involved selling works by Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Moran, Francis Picabia, and Norman Rockwell, two of which were donated by the artist—drew fire from industry professionals who claimed that it violated the industry’s code of ethics. Art activists tried to prevent the museum from moving forward with the plan by taking legal action. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court concluded that since the Berkshire’s financial situation is dire it should be allowed to sell off works.

David Ellis will serve as interim director as the museum searches for Shields’s replacement. Prior to joining the institution, Ellis served as president of the Boston Museum of Science, interim president of the Boston Children’s Museum, and interim executive director of the Harvard Museum of Natural History. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Alliance of Museums and the board of advisors for the MIT Museum.

In addition, Nina Garlington will move to a new position supporting Ellis as chief of staff and will be responsible for coordinating museum planning and programming across departments. A new chief engagement officer will also be named. 

Commenting on his new role, Ellis said, “I look forward to working with the board of trustees, the museum leadership, and the staff to make the transition that secures the course to a strong and sustainable future.”

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