As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, there are ethical codes in which every museum and art collecting association are assumed to follow. One of which states that an art collecting institution may only sell artwork from their collection for specific reasons dealing with the acquisition of new works or for the care and betterment of the artwork itself, namely not for pure profit. Recently, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts announced they would be selling 40 of their most valuable works at an upcoming Sotheby's auction, including pieces by Norman Rockwell, Frederic Church, Alexander Calder, and Rembrandt Peale. Many of the pieces were part of the founding collection acquired 114 years ago. Considered to "no longer serve their mission", the museum's leadership has decided to sell the artworks in an attempt to sustain the museum and its goals to the community.
Upon the announcement, the controversy over the sale erupted. Both supporters and opponents alike began vocalizing their opinions on the matter. Considering the valuable quality of the works, the locals state that they will feel the loss to their artistic community, however the museum claims one of the reasons why the museum is suffering financially is the lack of community support through fundraisers and donations. Seen as the only way to keep the museum's doors open for the rest of their collection, the Berkshire Museum feels they must go through with the sale.
As a long standing rule held by the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, this sale conflicts directly with both associations. Furthermore, these two associations fear that this sale will set a bad example to art donors and supporters, discouraging them from gifting their "cherished objects" for fear that they may be sold at any time to make up for budgetary deficits. Besides the associations' disapproval of the sale, further action could be taken against the institution such as sanctioning the lending or assistance with future exhibitions at the Berkshire Museum.
A heated debate has surfaced nationwide, and has consequently brought forth questions about suffering museums and their options when faced with financial doom. Supporters of the sale challenge the "sacred nature" of these collections, and the lack of empathy towards the institution who holds them. Regardless of opinions and sides taken, this sale has spurned an ethical dilemma amidst a rich, traditional history.