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Mississippi Museum of Art celebrates 100 years

By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
Sept. 15, 2003
The Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson is celebrating its 100th birthday and the nonprofit institution is still going strong with a collection of thousands of works of art.
Betsy Bradley, director of the museum in downtown Jackson, discussed the centennial celebration and other issues in an interview with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: What's happening at the Mississippi Museum of Art? And tell us about your statewide programs.
Betsy Bradley: We are celebrating our centennial. We have done statewide activities for our entire existence, but the formal program began in the '80s when we were the recipient of some grants to set up satellite art museums. We set up on the Gulf Coast and one in Tupelo 1989 was the opening of the Gulf Coast.
They both kind of spun-off and got strong enough that they became independent museums of their own. When those facilities became independent, we started working with other organizations throughout the state and established an affiliate network program so that organizations like the Community College Cares could borrow art works from our collection to put on a display in their facilities in their community.
One of the reasons we wanted to do this is because we have 3,700 art works in our permanent collection, but we have fairly limited exhibition space. It's really important to us to get them out as much as we can. So, we work with people of these 14 organizations throughout the state to get some art work out. We are beginning this year to focus on that program.
The Star: Of the art works that you have, are all of them paintings?
Bradley: It's actually fairly comprehensive and broad-based, even though we do have the largest collection of Mississippi art in anyone place. There are lots of paintings. We have folk art that is both two-dimensional and three-dimensional. We have Japanese prints. We have a large collection of photography, especially of the South and the region.
The Star: Who are some of the more well-known Mississippi artists?
Bradley: We're about to open a Walter Anderson (exhibit) in honor of his 100th birthday.
The Star: Why should people remember folks like Walter Anderson and see his work?
Bradley: In any civilization, a visual artist is a person who not only records the images of the time but interprets them and leans his or her imagination the way that a civilization expresses. For Mississippians to understand who they are and where they come from, they need to know how people who lived here saw it and recorded it.
We have in our collection works by people who lived here maybe for a short time but went on to achieve fame in the art world in other places. It's important to think about their heritage, too, and what being involved in Mississippi and living in Mississippi meant to the way they saw things and the way they learned and the way they interpret their civilization.
It's the same reason literature is important or music is important because it's an expression of civilization.
The Star: How do you connect this with students?
Bradley: We just developed, actually, as a way of reflecting on our first 100 years and thinking about our next, a new strategic plan and evaluated where we've been and established some goals.
One is to work throughout the state and make sure we're a state museum. One is to work with social services organization in the community to make sure that visual art and the museum are helping to address issues that are important to the community.
A third one is about education itself. You'll see a whole host of educational programs listed here (including) an after school program that we do with Jackson public schools. We've also expanded it to have a partnership with the (Jackson) zoo and the natural science museum so children from an inner-city middle school come to our various institutions after school and they learn art or science.
The Star: What about the rest of the state?
Bradley: We sponsor scholastic art awards, which is a statewide art competition for junior and high school students. We've been doing that for 20-something years. Students who do well in that competition in Jackson are sent on to New York to the national competition and often get scholarships to art schools across the country.
We also do workshops for teachers throughout the state so that they will have curriculum information to tie whatever expeditions we have to the curriculum.
We did this really cool program that's been great … where we had 10 high school students from city high schools come to the art museum everyday. We have two galleries that are studio galleries, classroom-kind of spaces. These students came all day everyday during spring break from 9 until 3. Each of them set up a studio space of their own and we hired a professional artist to set up her studio space and work with them all day long and give constructive feedback.
It was not teaching. It was not instruction. It was "This is how an artist works. This is what an artist
thinks about, how an artist stops every now and then to listen to some music to get inspired." They went up to the galleries and the work they created was going to tour in office buildings in Jackson because a commercial real estate developer sponsored it.
The Star: How does the Mississippi Museum of Art compare to other museums like the New Orleans Museum of Art?
Bradley: The New Orleans Museum of Art is a city museum and we are a private, nonprofit museum. We have been built by individuals who are interested in the community having a place that collects and exhibits art and educates about it. Our collection has been built by individuals in the state or some out of the state … who have happened to build collections or been artists and want their things to be seen and enjoyed by the public.
We do not have a huge endowment to go purchase whatever art work we like. We do purchase a few. We have built our collection on the generous contributions of people who collect or who are artists from Mississippi.