In a hard hat and heels, Betsy Bradley artfully maneuvered past the piles of rubble, plywood gangplanks laid over shallow ditches, and piles of sand and sawdust that surround the construction site of the new Mississippi Museum of Art.
As the museum director, Bradley has been involved in every miniscule decision about the new building. While listening to her explain everything from visually engaging museum-goers to the sound-reducing qualities of various flooring materials, it was easy to see that the Mississippi Museum of Art is in good hands.
Bradley, 45, hails from Greenville. She received a B.A. in English from Millsaps and an M.A. from Vanderbilt, also in English. The wife and proud mother of one taught at Millsaps for a while before becoming the curator of education at the Museum of Art. Bradley then joined the Mississippi Arts Commission as community arts director. A mere fours years later, she became the executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission.
As director of MAC, Bradley traveled throughout the state and learned how to be a public servant, how to make an arts organization relevant to its community and how to engender participation in the arts.
In 2001, after 10 years at MAC, Bradley became the director of the Museum of Art. As director, she has expanded the Museum's mission, especially in the realm of education and public participation. The final step is the new museum facility, scheduled to open in June.
Bradley has high standards for the new museum and says that "it is very important not to underestimate the Southern audience ... we may have 'novice learners' in the arts, but that's not because of who they are. That's because of the system, the economics and society's priorities." Her love of the arts comes from espousing a basic belief that art speaks for us all. "I believe that artists struggle with the same things that we all struggle with—identity, place, race and gender," Bradley said, "and I think that art is the most effective means of addressing these issues."
She recalls when Cultural Crossroads put on a production of "Romeo and Juliet" in the '80s, which featured a white professional actress paired with a local black actor. For Bradley, that play "showed that art can aid in confronting and discussing difficult issues because they are presented in a detached format, then the issues aren't directly related to your personal life ... and that facilitates examination."