Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA), spoke to the Rotary Club of North Jackson at the club’s March 8 meeting. She discussed the museum, its mission,  history, and upcoming exhibitions and activities. Bradley is a native of Greenville, MS, received a BA in English from Millsaps College and an MA in English from Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining the museum in 2001, she was Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. Since joining MMA she has overseen significant growth of the institution, shepherding two capital campaigns that resulted in a move to a completely renovated facility, and the creation of The Art Garden, the first new public green space in downtown Jackson since the 1970s. Committed to making MMA relevant to its community, Bradley works in partnership with many local cultural, social service, and history organizations to create opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations.  This work has resulted in prestigious federal and national foundation grant awards and recognition for MMA, including the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for Leadership and the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  

Bradley was elected to membership of the Association of Art Museum Directors in 2012 and has served on the boards of Americans for the Arts, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and the Southern Arts Federation.  She has also served on the Steering Council for the Mississippi Economic Council’s Blueprint Mississippi Project, the 50th Reunion of the Mississippi Freedom Riders, and the executive committee of Downtown Jackson Partners.

Bradley stated that the mission of MMA is “to connect Mississippi to the world, and the power of art to the power of community.”  “The museum is committed to honesty, equity, and inclusion, the Mississippi Museum of Art is a leader in engaging art, artists, and participants in the critical work of reckoning with the past, connecting with each other in the present, and envisioning a future without division.”

She cited the MMA’s major programs such as the Annie Laurie Swain Hearin Memorial Exhibition Series, the Bi-annual Mississippi Invitational where exhibits are curated by guest curators, and aggressive multimedia and multipurpose public programming schedule. The MMA has created a Center for Art & Public Exchange t (CAPE) that is funded by a $1.4 million W. K Kellogg Foundation grant over 3 years that has been extended for an additional 3 years by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant.CAPE  activities include adding to the MMA’s collection, creating artist residencies, public programs, a Community Advisory Council, and consulting programs.

The MMA has partnerships with the Baltimore Museum of Art, MS Dept. of Archives and History in addition to the CAPE Community Advisory Council.

The next exhibit at the MMA will be the Legacies of the Great Migration which opens April 8. The great migration references the historic phenomenon that saw more than six million African Americans leave the South for cities across the nation. Americans leave the South for cities across the United States. “This incredible movement of people transformed nearly every aspect of Black life, in both rural towns and urban metropolises. The impact of the Great Migration spurred a flourishing Black culture and established a new cadre of artists, writers, musicians, and makers.When the migration began, 90% of all African Americans were living in the South. By the time it was over, in the 1970s, 47% of all African Americans were living in the North and West. A rural people had become urban, and a Southern people had spread themselves all over the nation.

The premises supporting the exhibition are:

  • The impact of The Great Migration on contemporary visual artists has not been explored as the impact on musical traditions and literary artists.

  • The exhibition includes only new artwork, created by 12 leading African American artists with familial ties to the Deep South.

  • Each artist was given a $50,000 research grant to track their families’ journeys across the country.

The exhibition will be at:

  • MMA: April through September 2022, 

  • Baltimore Museum of Art: October - January 2023, 

  • the Brooklyn Museum: February - May 2023, 

  • California African American Museum: June-December 2023. 

  • Negotiations are ongoing to exhibit in Chicago and Detroit for 2024.

Bradley gave specific examples of artists involved with the exhibit, including Carrie Mae Weems, Theaster Gates, Mark Bradford.

She said that the exhibition will include a multi-platform, interactive digital storytelling portal. A digital platform will be available via the exhibition website as well as an in-gallery storytelling kiosk that will travel to each of the five (5) exhibition venues. One of the curatorial aims of this exhibition is to dispel the singular notion that the migration was simply an exodus out of the South; many families chose to stay, move within the South, or have since returned. This digital portal “ hopes to make these connections to time, place, geography, and theme in order to represent the everyday acts of those directly connected to the Great Migration as well as connect this history to other.”

Programming Highlights for the exhibition are:

  • Opening Weekend

    • Free admission

    • A symposium featuring artists, writers, and others

    • Performances by Theaster Gates and the Black Monks

    • A concluding performance by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra of a symphony by Florence Price.

  • National Teachers Institute

    • Educators from all six venue cities

    • Partnership with Facing History and Ourselves

    • Co-creation of curriculum to be used nationally

  • Closing Weekend

    • Lecture by Isabel Wilkerson

    • Performance of Two Wings by Jason Moran and Alicia Hall Moran

We thank Bradley for her presentation on MMA and for her service to the citizens of Mississippi. She is shown in the following photo with North Jackson Rotarians who helped raise her in Greenville. Shown, from the left, are Paul Watson, Bradley, Nate Adams, & Dave Orlansky.