PITTSFIELD – For the past 15 months, work teams have taken over the beautiful building that houses the Berkshire Museum, blasted bugles there to solve old problems and, after a major art sale, to help the institution to redefine its place in the local culture.
The museum reopens its second floor on Friday after $ 3.5 million in renovations funded by the 2018 sale of 22 of its most valuable items. Raising tens of millions of dollars, museum executives said in the face of criticism at the time, was necessary to save the place from financial collapse and structural degradation.
Proceeds from the sale of artwork were paid for all construction in and around the 39 South Street property last year.
As visitors ascend a marble staircase to the museum’s main exhibition halls, they will find a considerably refreshed space, from newly laid parquet floors to reconstructed walls now able to hold back the winter chill.
In front of them, as they go up, are a newly built art studio, science lab, two bathrooms, “pocket galleries” and, where once was a staff kitchen, a sitting area. calm audience through which the light passes.
“We finally have amenities here that never existed,” said Jeff Rodgers, the museum’s executive director, on a tour this week, checking off any changes. “All of this together is the rebirth of the second floor. “
Here are seven things to know about the museum’s big reveal:
1. JUST COMPLETED
It’s basically the same second floor, but the floor doesn’t creak anymore. The walls don’t cry due to inadequate insulation and air conditioning. While the showrooms now glow under strings of programmable LED lights that showcase new white oak flooring, the basic layout is the same except for the new spaces mentioned above.
In a first phase of work led by Allegrone Construction Co., at a cost of $ 2 million, the museum installed a new sewer line, waterproofed its foundations, installed new drains to channel rainwater and extended its rise. -charged. This elevator now reaches the second floor, allowing the museum to bring large objects to its main exhibition floor for the first time.
(Spoiler alert: this will include the fictional submarine coming in January for “Voyage to the Deep,” an interactive exhibit designed for young audiences and inspired by Jules Verne’s book “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”.)
The second phase of the work, led by Salco Construction Co., allowed for the reconstruction of the interior spaces upstairs. Teams reduced some walls to their studs to replace the old plaster with a sturdy wall panel that sits on plywood and steel framing more suited to modifiable museum exhibits. By insulating its exterior walls, the museum can better take care of rare objects sensitive to heat and humidity. The redesign was shaped by Bradley Architects and Berkshire Design.
2. HOW THE MUSEUM PAY FOR IT
The museum used the proceeds of the $ 53.25 million it made from the sale of artwork in 2018 to fund infrastructure repairs and renovations. This big nest egg, obtained after a legal battle resolved by the attorney general’s office and a judge of the Supreme Judicial Court, will also help the museum tackle the next project: a renovation of the first floor. (More details below.)
The new endowment fund also injects about $ 1 million into the museum’s operating budget – half of what Rodgers calls its current “austerity” spending during the pandemic. To prepare for future construction needs, the museum allocates $ 300,000 per year in a reserve fund.
3. A MUSEUM ON THE MOVE
At the Berkshire Museum, they want you to come back. And then again.
Rodgers says the museum’s exhibition spaces, even only some sections, are now designed to renew themselves regularly, at least quarterly. He predicts that the museum could see a complete change in what it presents every two years.
A key tool: the museum has purchased 30 “mobile museum units” which can be fitted with small screens – and even travel to audiences elsewhere. It also uses tables that can be set up with chairs and workspaces, to promote hands-on engagement with the exhibits.
“Anything can move from here to anywhere else, including our technology. Everything is designed to be mobile, ”Rodgers said. “Adaptability and mobility. These are the watchwords now.
4. MIX THE OLD WITH THE NEW
Returning customers, in case you’re wondering: The exhibit space housing ‘Objects and Their Stories’ features two of the museum’s most popular collections: a mummified Egyptian and the preserved head of a famous moose.
“We wanted to bring Old Bill back because he was a local favorite,” Rodgers said. Old Bill is the nickname for the moose that was killed in 1920 as part of a herd on the private estate of William C. Whitney on land now part of the October Mountain State Forest.
Old Bill watches from a perch on an interior wall of the gallery, along with other animal trophies. The other old favorite, the mummified person known as Patah, is lying in a glass enclosure in the next room.
“There are things people just expect to see when they’re here,” Rodgers said.
The ‘new’, said Rodgers, will be featured both in independent exhibitions, such as the one now featuring photographs of Bhutan by local artists Dan Mead and Sally Eagle and using items from the museum’s 40,000-item collection. to tell new stories.
“The goal is not to have one way to look at these objects. So you learn new things about it. [The museum] becomes a continuous, living and adaptive environment, ”he said.
This includes “Winged Victory”, the museum’s reproduction of Hellenistic sculpture that lives in the Louvre in Paris. It took four days for the museum to move “Nike,” as the artwork is also known, inch by inch using a portable crane. “There is no way to take it off display,” he said.
Much Easier to Move: Six of nine toys created by artist Alexander Calder, now tucked away in a new display in one of the new “pocket” galleries.
5. ROLE OF “STORYTELLER”
Decades of collecting, acquisitions and gift giving have made the Berkshire Museum a major regional attraction. Today, the museum’s main goal, says Rodgers, is to help visitors think about the world around them by displaying items from its collections of approximately 40,000 objects.
“We cannot be a museum that collects in all of the areas that this museum has funds in,” Rodgers said. “We are truly a storytelling museum. We are not a collecting institution. We are a place of ideas.
The approximately 1,400 objects currently on display represent less than 4% of the museum’s collection.
Who listens to these stories? The museum received an average of 60,000 visitors per year.
6. RESETTING THE MISSION
Rodgers arrived in April 2019, after the departure of Van Shields, the executive director who initially spearheaded the art’s cession by the museum’s board of trustees and after the controversial sales ended. The current director’s guidance document, however, is the blueprint that gave rise to the art sales.
The plan called for the museum to heal its construction problems and, citing responses from polls and focus groups, shape new exhibits that made greater interdisciplinary use of its collection – minus the works of art that were sold. , including two acclaimed paintings by Norman Rockwell that the artist donated to the museum.
7. THE FUTURE
As of this week, the center of the second floor, the paneled Ellen Crane Memorial Hall, is still awaiting her TLC. A plan first presented by Shields called for the crane room to be significantly renovated.
Today that plan has been scuttled and the room, which sits under a glass-tile ceiling, will be refreshed rather than restored. “It’s architecturally and artistically significant,” Rodgers said of the space, named after a relative of museum founder Zenas Crane. “The goal is to restore it to its original splendor. We just want to restore what we have.
The designers are working on improving the acoustics of the room and will replace its floor covering, a sort of rubberized slab.
Next week, the museum will announce that it has hired a Cambridge firm, IKD, to lead the planning for its first floor renovations, with a concept and blueprints that will be ready by the end of next year. As part of this, all or part of the aquarium, now in the basement, will move to the first floor. Also to come: work on the museum theater.