Last Effort Made to Stop Berkshire Museum’s Plan to Sell Artwork

Framingam Rep. Chris Walsh gives his acceptance speech after receiving the Champions of Artists award (Photo by Valdya Baraputri/BU News Service)

By Valdya Baraputri
Boston University Statehouse Program

BOSTON – The head of the Massachusetts Cultural Council urged artists on Wednesday to encourage Attorney General Maura Healey to appeal the Berkshire Superior Court decision allowing the Berkshire Museum to sell its artwork amid financial struggle.

“Thank her for her advocacy, for her efforts, for her hard work,” said MCC Executive Director Anita Walker during the 11th annual “Artists Under the Dome” event. “And urge her to appeal this court’s decision. It’s Wednesday, the art will be sold on Monday. But there is still time to stop it.”

Walker worried if the plan to sell the artwork goes through, other museums will treat their collections as a checking account.

“This is a landmark decision. It will signal other board of trustees of museums across the country, that if there’s a financial struggle or hardship facing them, they can turn to their collections, and start to sell them off to raise money,” Walker told the audience in the Statehouse Hall of Flags.

Walker spoke after the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition presented the annual “Champions of Artists Award” for people whose works made meaningful contributions in the field.

Among the award recipients was Rep. Chris Walsh, D-Framingham, who has filed seven bills to support artists and their work. He showed similar concern that letting Berkshire Museum sell their collections would create a bad precedent.

“Collections are really considered in the public realm and they are not an ATM,” said Walsh in an interview. “So what will happen, I think people are going to be less likely to donate to a museum now, particularly smaller museums.”

Walsh regretted the plan announced by the Berkshire Museum in the summer, saying that Danforth Art Museum in Framingham also had financial setbacks but took a different path.

“It went into an agreement with Framingham State University and the university will sort of underpin them financially, so the museum will stay a museum,” said Walsh.

However, Walsh was unsure if lawmakers could prevent the same thing from happening again in the future, given the matter was more of an ethical issue.

Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini made a point in his decision that only the Attorney General’s Office can intervene on how a public charity like the museum goes about its affairs.

Despite the crunched period of time before the auction, Walker remained hopeful. Her organization has corresponded and sent a statement to the AG’s office, urging them to appeal the decision, knowing that it’s the last thing they could do.

“The only thing that will stop it, is an injunction by the court. And the only way between now and auction is to have it appealed by the AG’s office. And have a judge agreed to issue an injunction to stop the sale. Today. Tomorrow,” said Walker.

 

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