1Berkshire. 2Berkshire. 3Berkshire. When last we spoke, 1Berkshire acknowledged they had received $300,000 from GE. And we learned that 1Berkshire – the new super-agency designed to promote economic development – had launched the Smart Clean-Up Coalition. Because they wanted to make the case that an energetic and comprehensive PCB clean-up of the Housatonic River would hurt tourism and economic development.

Well, the story won’t go away. We learned from the Boston Globe that Michael Daly, chairman of 1Berkshire and the President of Berkshire Bank, declared unambiguously that the “Smart Clean-up Coalition is not working with GE in any way, shape, or form.’’

Peter Lafayette, executive director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation, and the man in charge of the Smart Clean-up Facebook page, told the Globe “We didn’t use any money [for the webpage]. We did it all in-house,’’ at Berkshire Bank.

1Berkshire, the Smart Clean-up Coalition, Berkshire Bank, the Berkshire Bank Foundation, and Berkshire Creative. And the $300,000.

There’s a game going on. I call it “Company Town.” For close to a century, you could sell your labor to GE and work on the factory floor, or you could sell your services to them. People lived and died with the GE.

And even though the Company may have left town, they left their mess and their friends behind. So the game goes on.

Principled people are royal pains in the neck. Because they step out of the game and ask us to remember what’s most important. Reminding us of our daily surrenders, the near constant compromises we make to continue on with our lives.

Which brings me to Eugenie Sills, the publisher of the Women’s Times and one of the founders of Berkshire Creative. Berkshire Creative is the fourth spoke in the 1Berkshire wheel. And when 1Berkshire decided to put its energies into the Smart Clean-up Coalition, Berkshire Creative went along.

But not everyone was happy. Eugenie Sills bravely resigned from the organization she helped to build because the “lack of transparency and outright misrepresentation around the issue of the Housatonic River cleanup have led many to wonder whose agenda is really being served . . .”

It’s hard to be creative. It’s hard enough gathering the energy and insight to say or paint or compose something compelling enough to get people off their couches and into a gallery or theater or club. Then doubly hard to make a decent living doing it.

Making art and making money. A dilemma as old as the first dollar. I imagine the impulse to create Berkshire Creative was a worthy one. To help creative people find more work, more support, potential patrons, and each other. But the recent pressure by Berkshire Creative’s partners in 1Berkshire exposes once again the age-old tension between the art- and money-makers. Between the patrons of the arts and those who create the art.

One of the stories that hasn’t been told is the story of how GE and its corporate friends and neighbors have influenced the arts, our cultural institutions, and local non-profits.

Have you ever seen a theater piece about GE, its workers, their lives, or the labor strikes that ripped the city? The good and bad things GE brought to life. At the Berkshire Theater Festival, the Barrington Stage, Shakespeare & Company? A dance piece at Jacob’s Pillow? A photo exhibit of the PCB-soaked floors of the factory at the Berkshire Museum?

GE gave great amounts of money to support the arts in Berkshire County. And Berkshire County’s arts institutions returned the favor by super-gluing their eyes and ears shut to the massive truth that GE’s influence extended just about everywhere. That GE’s toxic legacy was felt throughout the County.

Now, Berkshire Bank is leading the charge for 1Berkshire’s oxymoronic Smart Clean-up. As if a comprehensive PCB cleanup could ever be stupid?

And it’s not surprising that just about everyone at Berkshire Creative is going along with it. Is it because the Berkshire Bank Foundation gives out thousands of dollars each year to theater companies and arts organizations who do good work about just about everything except what’s happening right here at home. The alarming incidence of learning disabilities in Pittsfield’s schools. Hill 78, GE’s mountain of poisonous waste that looms over the Allendale School. The oh-so charming Silver Lake, GE’s toxic stew that will forever mar a renovated and renewed industrial center.

Berkshire Bank, as GE before it, has given money to just about everyone from the Center for Ecological Technology to Barrington Stage to IS183.

Now before these groups besiege me with angry letters about the great work they do, I wish they would ask themselves why they have gone along with an effort that will leave us a river of toxic fish?

From the Department of Glass Houses and Throwing Stones: Mickey Friedman once made promotional videos for GE Plastics.

The Berkshire Record, March 10, 2011. © Mickey Friedman