Betsy Bradley | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Betsy Bradley

Photo by R.L. Nave.

When Betsy Bradley was in high school, she took a course about authors who hailed from her hometown of Greenville. Despite growing up there, she had a sense that there was something a little strange--and kind of cool--in a high-school course highlighting writers from the city of 40,000 people.

"But that's what Greenville is all about," she said. "It's an unexpectedly eclectic mix of folks with a strong sense (of place), a dynamic town where everyone is friends with people who are very different from you."

Even though she completed her undergraduate studies at Millsaps College, Bradley didn't feel that Jackson was as aware of its place in the world as her native city. However, that started changing when Bradley immersed herself in Jackson's arts scene.

After getting a master's degree in literature from Vanderbilt University, Bradley returned to Millsaps to teach at her alma mater. She went on to work as curator of education at the Mississippi Museum of Art, where she is now the director. She later joined the Mississippi Arts Commission, first as community arts director and then as its executive director from 1991 to 2001.

Bradley, the featured speaker at Koinonia's Coffee House's Friday Forum, hopes the museum has a transformative impact on museumgoers that ripples throughout the capitol city.

Part of that starts with the museum's main permanent exhibit, the Mississippi Story, which Bradley said is designed to ensure that out-of-town guests who wander into the museum know they're in Mississippi.

Bradley also sees the museum as a catalyst to allow difficult community conversations to take place. She points to a recent exhibit featuring mugshots of 368 Freedom Riders arrested in Jackson in 1961.

The museum will also play a big part in next year's 50th anniversary commemoration of Medgar Evers' assassination. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, will be in attendance for the unveiling of new portraits of Myrlie and Medgar at a ceremony next June.

"If we can talk about and show the art of this place, people will understand it better," Bradley said of Jackson.

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