November 22, 2017
 
Berkshire Museum Names Acting EDs as It Battles Two Lawsuits

Nina Garlington, left, and Craig Langlois
October 29, 2017 — The Berkshire Museum, a Pittsfield nonprofit that has been embroiled in controversy, including two recently filed lawsuits, relating to the proposed sale of 40 artworks next month to help stabilize its finances, last week named two acting co-executive directors to serve in place of Van Shields, who will be on medical leave.

Nina Garlington, currently chief engagement officer of the Berkshire Museum, and Craig Langlois, chief experience officer, were named acting co-executive directors, effective Oct. 31. Van Shields is preparing to undergo major surgery and is expected to be on leave through the end of the year.

Fiduciary matters will remain in the hands of the board of trustees.


Attorney General Gets Involved in Lawsuit to Delay Artwork Sale

October 31, 2017 — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey yesterday filed a response a lawsuit filed by members of Norman Rockwell's family and others who are seeking a temporary restraining order to delay the Berkshire Museum's plan to sell 40 works of art.

The lawsuit will be heard in Berkshire Superior Court tomorrow, just 12 days before an auction is scheduled to sell the art.

"The Berkshire Museum is important to the community and a resource for the entire state. We are hopeful that this court proceeding presents an opportunity to explore alternatives to this sale that will maintain the art collection and allow the museum to thrive in the years to come," said Emily Snyder, deputy press secretary to Healey.

The AG's office believes that Rockwell intended his paintings to be kept by the Berkshire Museum so the public could see them, and that deaccessioning the art requires the museum to seek court review. State law includes certain legal restrictions that prohibit the museum from selling artwork donated before 1932.


Garlington has served in her current post for the past year, following four years as the museum's director of development. Previously, she served as director of resource development at Berkshire United Way and director of donor relations at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in arts history from Union College.

Langlois, who has been with the museum for nearly a decade, having created and implemented a numerous programs and exhibitions. He is active as a community leader, working with local nonprofit organizations and schools to strengthen education and expand learning in the region. Langlois holds a Master of Fine Arts degree.

Last Thursday, former Berkshire Museum member Elizabeth Weinberg and current members James and Kristin Hatt filed a complaint in state court in Boston, claiming that the sale “will do irreparable harm to [the museum’s] purpose and to its duties and obligations to its donors and members," according a report in The Boston Globe.

The previous week, a lawsuit filed in Pittsfield accused "the museum and its trustees of breach of contract and fiduciary duty. It asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order to block the sale, which is set to take place through a series of auctions beginning Nov. 13 at Sotheby’s," the paper reported.

The museum on Thursday said the "court filing presents detailed and specific facts proving as deeply flawed the arguments of those attempting to block the sale," noting, "There are no restrictions on the works offered for sale."

The museum announced plans in July to sell 40 artworks to help generate $60 million to stabilize its finances, sparking a protest from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which argued that the plan is "a violation of the museum's public trust."

Elizabeth McGraw, board president of the museum, last summer said, "We understand why some are protesting the sale of those 40 beautiful pieces of art. Some individuals are frustrated because they think that a pause in the sale would lead to a different financial path somehow changing this harsh reality. The board has spent over two years exploring that very thing. However, the consequence of a delay with the auction could be that the museum may close even sooner."

An affidavit filed in support of the Boston lawsuit acknowledges nothing prohibits the museum from selling items from its collection: "At the time donors gave works of art to the Berkshire Museum it was simply accepted as a 'given' that the works would be permanently retained in the collection. Consequently, very few donors explicitly prohibited sale of gifts of works of art to museum collections."

The museum said its planned sale of artworks will help fund a strategy, developed over nearly two years, that aims to strengthen links between science, history, and the arts, and provide financial stability. One-third of the expected $60 million to be gained from the sale will help implement the strategy's; the remaining $40 million will create a new endowment.

Among the works the museum said it plans to auction at Sotheby’s are Norman Rockwell’s “Blacksmith’s Boy — Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop)” and “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” two paintings by Albert Bierstadt of the Hudson River School, a pair of works by sculptor Alexander Calder, a watercolor by Edouard Vuillard, and an oil painting by Benjamin West.

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