The Art of Managing a Museum

There’s an art to managing a museum, and the Mississippi Museum of Art benefits from six Millsaps alumni overseeing the everyday details of its operations.

Betsy Bradley (’84), Leslie Kennedy (’90), Jana Brady (’07), Ruth Massey (’07), Sarah Wade (’17), and Grayston Barron (’19) form the strong and cohesive team of Millsaps graduates at the museum, located in downtown Jackson. Originally founded in 1911 as the Mississippi Arts Association, the museum has grown into an institution focused not only on the display and curation of world-class art but also on the countless stories of art and how “to connect the power of art to the power of community,” as noted on their website.

Bradley has served as director of the museum for the past 19 years. Under her leadership, the museum has cemented its role as a leading arts organization in Mississippi and beyond. Bradley credits Dr. Catherine Freis, emerita professor of classical studies, for pushing her to be a more thoughtful person in her work.

“She told me that she could tell that I had been raised to be a good girl and to not think for myself,” Bradley said. “In other words, I had memorized what she taught us, but I was too intellectually timid to decide whether or not I agreed with her interpretations or to formulate my own. It truly changed my thinking life and began my lifelong intellectual curiosity.”

Reflecting the broad scope and value of a liberal arts education, only three of the six graduates earned degrees in art. Bradley majored in English, Kennedy in business administration, and Wade in anthropology and sociology. Brady and Massey majored in art history, and Barron double majored in studio art and art history. For Brady, Massey, and Barron, the influence of Dr. Elise Smith, professor of art history, is still felt today.

Brady noted that Smith inspired her love of art history and is one of the reasons she’s now working at the museum. “Her museum studies class helped me understand the multiple opportunities for art history majors at a museum that I was not aware of previously,” she said.

For Barron, Smith was “an incredible mentor for all four years.” She also credits Millsaps faculty members Sue Carrie Drummond, Kristen Tordella-Williams, and Erin McCutcheon for pushing her “to be a better artist and writer, while fostering my love for art and feminism.”

Together, the different disciplines and talents brought to the table by these women blend into one focus on making the Mississippi Museum of Art a destination point in the city.

Each manages a different aspect of the museum’s day to day operations. Kennedy is associate director for membership services, Brady is director of marketing, Massey is director of operations, Wade is associate director for visitor services, and Barron is currently the inaugural post baccalaureate fellow in education.
The relationship between Millsaps and the museum remains strong today, as students have the opportunity to apply for academic internships designed to provide practical work experience in a museum setting and the development of skills that can be applied to museum work or advanced studies.

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