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Berkshire Museum Looks Forward After Executive Director’s Abrupt Exit

A stone building is lit up by lights under an indigo night sky.
Berkshire Museum

On Monday, the Berkshire Museum announced the sudden departure of executive director Jeff Rodgers – three days after his final work day, September 10th. Entering on the heels of a controversial art sale and reimagining of the museum in 2019, Rodgers ended his tenure with the Pittsfield, Massachusetts institution after only two and a half years. Interim leadership of the Berkshire Museum will be split between top administrators during a national search to replace Rodgers. Board of Trustees President Ethan Klepetar spoke with WAMC about Rodgers' exit and more.

KLEPETAR: I think what Jeff said is that he came to the museum with certain goals, and he's accomplished those goals. And he's just interested in exploring other opportunities in science and education. But that's, that's really all I know, in terms of his decision.

WAMC: Now, had he not left, would the board have been happy with keeping him on past this point?

Yeah, absolutely. So I think Jeff came to the museum at a really critical time in our history and did a really terrific job. He was a steady, thoughtful presence as the leader of the museum, helped us shore up our finances, completed major renovations to the building, including waterproofing our storage area, putting in a freight elevator. And then, of course, the recent updates to the second floor, it came out really fantastically as well. So, only really positive things to say about Jeff Rodgers. I think he did a great job as the executive director of the Berkshire Museum.

Now, at this point, when you search for a new permanent director of the museum, what are you looking for?

We're really looking for somebody to be the leader of the museum, who can be the person who can communicate with all of the different stakeholders, and that's our community partners, our donors, our visitors are as important as anyone. Of course, you know that that includes working with the schools and kids for educational programming, working with the board, working with the staff. I think that's the most important thing, is somebody who can work with all these different groups of people and make sure we're all working together to make the museum the best possible museum that it can be for the community.

Now, Jeff Rogers was at the museum for about two and a half years, which is less than half the tenure of his predecessor Van Shields. Looking forward, do you think there are ways that the museum can better incentivize a long-term hire to hold that role for longer than Mr. Rodgers’ tenure?

You know, that's an interesting question. I guess, I think the museum has a lot to offer. I think we've got a really bright future ahead. We're about to embark on updating the first floor, including major renovations to the aquarium. I think that just the museum itself, and all of the exciting things going on, and we have a really terrific staff- I think there's a lot of reasons for somebody to be excited and to want to stay in a position for a long time.

So at this point, what's the timeline like to find a replacement for the executive director position?

So right now we've got to get a committee of the board kind of put together up and running, and the first order of business will be hiring a consultant to help us with that search process. I think that can all happen- It's hard to say exactly, but say, maybe a couple of months. And it should be six months to a year would be my guess before we’ve hired a full time executive director.

Now, you alluded to all the work that Mr. Rodgers was overseeing in his role in the midst of the museum's reimagining post art sale. At this point, what is there left to do from that plan? Are there their funds still in the bank from the sale at this point?

Yeah, absolutely. I think the most important thing is the updating and upgrading the first floor to make that the visitor experience on the first floor a really exciting, tremendous experience, and also the basement. The most exciting project I think is going to be working on the aquarium and updating that. But the first floor exhibits all should be updated over the next, I don't know, a couple of years or so. And I think that's going to be a really exciting project. And I can't wait to get further along on that and get into it, because I think it's going to be really fun. And we're going to have something really, really special to show people when it's done.

What kind of hit did the museum take from COVID-19? Given that the art sale was in part to shore up the endowment due to existing financial issues, how intense has it been surviving this particularly fraught era?

Well, so we have- We were in a really good position financially going into COVID, thankfully. And so we didn't take too big of a hit really. We have- The first order of business from that deaccessioning was to create a fund that would fill our operating deficit. And so we have that in place. And that has really, really helped us through COVID. If it wasn't for the art sales, I'm afraid the Berkshire Museum would have been another victim of COVID, in fact, but since we have such strong financial position, we were able to weather that storm really, really effectively.

One of the interesting recent developments in the world of the Berkshire art institution world has been the emergence of an anonymous Instagram account called Change Berkshire Culture, where anonymous claims are levied at various institutions in the county – to which the Berkshire Museum has been one of them. I’m interested, is this account on your radar? And how have you chosen to address this new phenomena of anonymous claims being made against an institution like the museum?

Yeah, that's an interesting question too. And it's certainly on my radar in the sense that I'm aware of the account. And I've seen some of the posts about the Berkshire Museum and other institutions. All I would say is that we're always very conscious of our work culture and doing what's right for our employees. And we continue to be so. And really that's regardless of Change Berkshire Culture, that's just because it's the right thing to do.

So when you see things about the museum being posted in that format, is that something that you address internally? Is it something that you have some sort of dialogue going inside the museum about?

Yeah, so from a board level, it's certainly something we look at. I know that Jeff Rodgers and I believe senior staff have addressed it was staff. Again, it's more something just to be aware of. I don't really know a lot, frankly, about Change Berkshire Culture as an organization, or what specifically has been said on there.

As far as the museum specifically, there was some sort of indication in one post from June that long term staff have been leaving in some great capacity over the last few months. Is that something you can speak to?

Not really. I don't know that that's- I can't really speak to it, because I don't know that data on it. I think that there's been a lot of turnover throughout the county and throughout America during COVID. I think a lot of people have been rethinking their lives, their work environments, and there's been a lot of changes in terms of people looking for new work, looking for new opportunities, rethinking what they want specifically out of life. I don't think that the museum has had, and I guess I don't know the data on this for certain, but I don't think we've had significantly more turnover in 2020 and 2021 than we had before.

In that post from June, there's an allegation of toxic culture. Do you have anything in response to a claim like that about the museum and its internal culture?

No, I don't. I'm certainly not aware of any toxicity in the work environment at the Berkshire Museum. Everything I've heard from staff has largely been positive. I think we've got a staff that that's really passionate about the museum and the community we serve. My understanding is that people who are working there are all working really hard together to just make it the best museum it can be and to really focus on the present and the future with all these projects we have. And making sure again that we're just the best Berkshire Museum we can be for the community.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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