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Why? Pray Tell....

Posted by Kimberly Camp
Kimberly Camp
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on Friday, 22 June 2012 in Uncategorized

Why? Pray Tell....

The reason for the Barnes Foundation move on to the Parkway in Philadelphia was simple. The same Indenture – the very same document that freezes the Barnes Foundation collection in time also said very plainly, very specifically that if the Barnes Foundation was not viable in Merion, the collection should go to a Philadelphia institution. Barnes’ letters to and from colleagues and friends spoke of his interest in having the Foundation more accessible to common everyday working class people after his death. Barnes worked tirelessly to invite Philadelphia schoolchildren to the Foundation, only to be rejected by school system officials. By 1930, over 100 school districts and universities were using Barnes’ pedagogy as a basis for their programs. Girl’s High and Barnes alma mater Central High school, where the only two in Philadelphia who used the Foundation's collections. In a letter Albert Barnes wrote to his friend and colleague John Dewey, he worried that in an attempt to re-create the program once they were gone, people would set it in stone, make it rigid, and thereby destroy it. He was right.

The negativity from neighbors and former students was never about where the Barnes belonged. It was merely that it didn’t belong only to them. There was no greater example of hypocrisy than their constant harangue. None of them ever read the Indenture or Barnes’ Will. One even testified to that in court.

All of this tumbled through my mind as I sat there listening to speech after speech after speech. An announcement was made that Lincoln University would be signing a resolution after the dedication to finally create a collaborative program with the Barnes Foundation. After my seven years of praying, wishing, urging, and cajoling collaboration I still find it hard to believe. There were words from board members, the mayor of Philadelphia, funders, and so many others I lost track.

Gov. Rendell was sitting two seats down, brimming from ear to ear. I looked around the room, for some mention of Dr. Albert C Barnes’ ideas, his vision, his image – anything that talked about the founder and why he created such an amazing institution, but there was nothing. I heard his name mentioned three or four times during the speeches, and wondered if anyone would use some of John Dewey's words from the original opening of the Foundation in 1925. When Dewey sent Dr. Barnes a draft of the opening remarks, Barnes sent them back and told Dewey to, "… mention the Negroes. I want people to know I'm serious about this business."

Dr. Neil Rudenstine, former president of Harvard University and Barnes Foundation board member took the podium and acknowledged the hard work of the staff. He was the one that said to the audience that the work of relocating Foundation came as a result of my work and asked me to stand. I appreciated the acknowledgment, but it did nothing to lessen my anxiety. It seemed that hours had passed, and I had no idea actually how much time the speeches took, but when Derek Gillman took the podium for the second time he asked the board members to join him.

Instead, they all came down from their seats on the dais and stood directly in front of the patterned metal gates that now are the entrance to the gallery. I noticed, during the speeches there four brown fingers sticking through the opening nervously anticipating the time when the gates were to be opened. As the board members stood there, the gates swung open and four trumpeters played a rather pretentious salute that reminded me of something from the Queen’s Jubilee. I entered behind the trustees eager to see what the galleries looked like;  to see the way that light now cradles the amazing masterpieces at the Barnes.brown fingers

Brown Fingers

For all intents and purposes everything is the same. The room relationships on either end of the new gallery were changed, for the installation of classrooms and increased natural light. The old thermostats were removed, albeit unnecessarily so. After the renovation early 1990s, the old thermostats were put back on the walls for continuity's sake. It really didn't matter. I walked through the galleries visiting old friends, my mind and my heart full of memories. The weekend was just beginning.

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