Berkshire Museum Inquiry Probes Board Member Conflict of Interest

Berkshire Museum.” Credit: Michael Lavin Flower

November 18, 2017; Berkshire Eagle

Our coverage of the efforts of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office to investigate the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield continues. The investigation, relatively broad at this time, probes the motivations and justifications behind the museum’s plans to deaccession 40 of its most valuable paintings to bolster its endowment and transition to an institution more focused on science.

Under investigation are the museum’s right to sell this artwork, as reflected in founding and other documents, and its compliance with its stewardship responsibilities related to the museum’s history of any previous deaccessions. Also, there’s a series of related party transactions totaling $578,000 between 2011 and 2015 with Hill-Engineers, Architects, Planners Inc., of which board member Jeffrey S. Noble is president. Lastly, the state questions the degree to which the museum faces a real financial crisis; it has asked to see reports from TDC, a nonprofit consulting firm with which the museum has worked, as well as documents related to any explorations of mergers or partnerships.

The museum has demanded to be informed about any third parties that are aiding the state’s investigation; specifically, they want the names of 20 people with whom the state has held “informational” interviews and information resulting from approximately 400 other contacts from people coming forward in the course of the state’s inquiry. Meanwhile, the auctioning of the paintings, worth an estimated $60 million, has been delayed a month by a court-imposed 30-day injunction period.—Ruth McCambridge