HENRY SANTORO: The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is looking to raise millions of dollars for improvements through the auction of some of its art. The sale of 40 pieces from its collection, scheduled for this November, is raising the ire of many, now including the Massachusetts Cultural Council – the state's chief arts agency. Joining us from our sister station in Springfield, WGBY, is Carrie Saldo who broke the story of the sale. Carrie, thanks so much for coming on.

CARRIE SALDO: Absolutely, great to be here.

SANTORO: So it was announced that the Mass Cultural Council wants the Berkshire Museum to scrap this auction, get rid of it. Why?

SALDO: Largely because the Cultural Council said, contrary to what Berkshire museum leadership has said, it doesn't need the money to stabilize its finances. And Greg Liakos, the Cultural Council spokesman, who I spoke with, said that instead, the museum could launch new exhibits or fundraisers among some other ideas. Now in July, museum leadership announced a $60 million plan largely contingent on the sale of these artworks, and that's meant to boost its endowment and renovate the 114-year-old museum so that it can better appeal to 21st century audiences. Without the money, the Berkshire Museum leadership has said that they'll close within eight years, and Cultural Council has said that the planned sale violates the public trust because in exchange for being a nonprofit that receives tax breaks, museums are supposed to care for the art collections that it has on behalf of the public, and Berkshire Museum has said it's being a good steward by taking care to secure its financial future.

SANTORO: Now when you broke this story, reactions against this auction were very negative. Why do you think so?

SALDO: Part of that stems from the fact that professional museums' ethics guidelines state that there are two reasons for the sale of artwork, and the money from those proceeds are meant to either purchase additional artworks or to care for their existing collections. It's not unusual for museums to sell artwork, but again, it's the idea that the Berkshire Museum intends to use the money from this planned sale for renovation and to boost its endowment. That's what's made it controversial. And some say the museum is essentially trading artwork for cash, which runs counter to those ethics guidelines that I mentioned.

SANTORO: Who else is on board as opposing the auction?

SALDO: Well the American Alliance of Museums is among the professional museum organizations that have asked Berkshire Museum to pause its planned sale and explore other options, as have members of the public. And the controversy has also drawn the attention of Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office is reviewing the matter. And Anita Walker of the Cultural Council is expected to meet with the head of the nonprofit's charities division of the AG's office to discuss the findings that the Cultural Council arrived at.

SANTORO: Do the museum's directors feel like they're being ganged up on here?

SALDO: Well the museum leadership has said that they did an exhaustive series of research to arrive at this very difficult decision to sell the 40 works of art – more than two years of study, you know, they spoke with members of the community. So while they have said that it was a very difficult decision to reach, they feel like they really did their due diligence here and that this is the best way to secure their finances and assure that they remain open for years to come.

SANTORO Has the museum received any public support for the sale?

SALDO: I would say the most prominent public support they've received is from Joseph Thompson who is the director of Mass MoCA in North Adams, which is the largest contemporary art museum in the country, and he's among those who've said that they support Berkshire Museum’s decision.

SANTORO: So what are the next steps that this museum – the Berkshire Museum – has to take?

SALDO: So the Cultural Council and Berkshire Museum leadership – they’re set to meet in October to review some other additional questions that the Cultural Council has about Berkshire Museum’s finances. Meanwhile, [the] Museum’s Board of Trustees has said that the decision to sell the artwork was, as I said, a difficult one to reach, but necessary for it to survive. And it has said that it plans to move forward with the sale.

SANTORO OK Carrie, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

SALDO: You're welcome.

SANTORO: That's Carrie Saldo from our sister station WGBY in Springfield. She broke the story of Pittsfield’s Berkshire Museum’s plan to auction off some of its collection to raise money for improvements.