The Rural We: Van Shields
If you’ve been hearing more and more about the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass. over the past five years, that has a lot to do with its executive director, Van Shields. Under his benevolent watch, the venue has become a powerhouse of creative programs for kids, wide-ranging workshops and lectures for adults, and engaging hands-on exhibits for all, as well as being the site of some of our favorite fundraising galas. Before coming to the helm in late 2011, Shields was the director of the Culture and Heritage Museums in Rock Hill, S.C., and before that worked at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Besides his main gig, Shields is a board member of 1Berkshire and Downtown Pittsfield Inc., and is on the BerkShares advisory board. In his downtime, Shields, along with his wife, painter Peggy Rivers, take full advantage of all the culture and natural beauty the Berkshires affords, and you’ll often see their smiles at art openings and community events up and down the county.
The Berkshire Museum is my third museum position, but way before that I owned a restaurant in Humboldt County, California, where I met Peggy, at our annual holiday party. After we were married, she decided to go back to school at Columbia, and we had a bicoastal relationship, which was hard. She was telling me I should move to New York City, too, because there were so many museums there, and that’s a job I’d always wanted to have. I shrugged it off, but eventually she said “Well, I’m not coming back” and I was forced to move. I ended up getting a job at the Museum of the Moving Image, where I worked for seven years.
After that, I was the director of the Culture and Heritage Museums in Rock Hill, S.C. for 15 years. When I decided it was time for a change, in 2011, I started looking for a new job and I was so happy to obtain my current position because the Berkshires seemed like the kind of community we’d left behind in California years ago. It’s a community where people tend to be alive from the shoulders up, meaning there’s cultural and intellectual stimulation. This area has all of the indoor and outdoor things we like: arts, culture, a fantastic natural environment for camping, hiking, fishing and biking. Socially, culturally and politically, the Berkshires was to our liking.
As for the Museum, there will be two new exhibits opening at the end of the month called Tell Me More, and The Science of Color. Curiosity Incubator, a brand new experience, will open Feb. 17. Coming this summer will be a major show, Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World, and the 2017 Wine Gala and Auction on June 24, plus we’ll announce the final phases of our master plan. It’s a dramatic re-envisioning of what the Museum will be and how it will serve the community, so stay tuned.