|Rodgers Takes Over as Head of Berkshire Museum|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
01:07PM / Friday, April 05, 2019
|Jeff Rodgers makes parachutes out of coffee filters with students from Craneville Elementary School during his first week.|
Rodgers watches as a student learns hands on about Leonardo Da Vinci machines.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Museum is a place you can grow up in, according to Jeff Rodgers.
Rodgers is the new executive director of the museum and started his new gig on Monday. He comes in the wake of a controversial period of the 116-year-old museum's history when museum officials sold off nearly two dozen pieces of its collection to raise $53 million. The sale of the art spurred significant backlash and tore a rift in the community.
For Rodgers, that's in the past. As his first week comes to an end, his goal is to build the inter-disciplinary experience at the Berkshire Museum and find ways to make the collection give visitors a new experience every time they come.
"It didn't scare me, obviously. I am here. Museums face challenges. This museum faced a challenge. Clearly, there were some heated conversations that were happening in the community. But a place like this deserves to survive and thrive," Rodgers said.
"You've got to find a way to pick up on the other side of that and move an institution forward. I'm not here to look back. I'm here to say, this is a remarkable place with fantastic resources, how do we turn the corner and look to the future?"
Rodgers comes to the Berkshires from the South Florida Museum where he was provost and chief operating officer. He is a former teacher and served in multiple roles at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Overall, he comes with more than 20 years of experience. In January, he was the unanimous selection to fill the shoes left by Van Shields, the director since 2011 who retired in June.
"I'm not going to impose my vision on this museum. That's not my goal at all. That's why I immerse myself first and get a sense of what kind of place is this, how does it interact with the community? The idea of coming in from the outside and saying this is how a museum should be, that's not me. That's not my style," Rodgers said.
That immersing began on Monday, less than 24 hours after he arrived in the Berkshires, and continued on Friday as he played and experienced the "Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion" exhibit alongside students from Craneville Elementary in Dalton.
"My goal today is to play and be a kid," Rodgers said.
The museum had sold the artwork to raise money for a "new vision" that includes not only renovations to the historic structure but also new interactive exhibits. Rodgers said he's reviewed those plans but it'll take him at least a couple months before taking any action.
"Students have different experiences than educators, kids have different experiences than parents, adults have different types of experiences in here. My first priority: immerse myself in all of those so I can understand how the museum is interacting with the community and vice versa," Rodgers said.
Rodgers said he was particularly drawn to the museum because of the diversity of offerings. He said the museum does a good job in weaving together aspects of life and history.
"This is a remarkable place. Museums like the Berkshire Museum are rarer and rarer. The diversity of the collection, the eclectic nature of the collection, natural history, art, artifacts. It covers natural history. It covers human creativity. It covers art. It covers everything," he said.
He later added that the museum displays "the story of the human experience and how we understand our place on our planet."
Rodgers' overall vision for the museum isn't detailed but rather broad. He wants to create "evergreen experiences" so that the museum is engaging for all.
"You should be able to grow up with this place. Second graders should be able to come back in third grade and have a completely different experience that represents their growth. You should be able to come as a teen, as a young adult, as an adult learner. You should never stop learning when you are here," Rodgers said.
Despite the new face at the museum, the art sale will have a lasting sting in the community. When asked how he'd mend that rift, Rodgers said, "start by listening." And it also starts with making parachutes out of coffee filters with some of the museum's youngest guests as Rodgers did to conclude his first week on the job as head of Zenas Crane's gift to the city as it weathers its most controversial time.