Ed. Curator to Depart Addison for DeCordova

Julie Bernson, Curator of Education at the Addison Gallery of American Art, greets elementary school students by name as they file into the museum. After 17 years of guiding student discussion about artwork in the Addison’s collection, Bernson will be leaving the Addison on March 2 to join the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA, as Deputy Director of Learning and Engagement. Bernson will miss her work at Andover after she leaves. “It’s been a really hard decision. I never thought I’d be leaving the Addison,” she said. While the Office of Human Resources searches for a new Curator of Education, the Addison looks to hire an interim Curator of Education to assume Bernson’s duties. The Addison hopes to fill the position in the next two weeks so that Bernson will be able to personally guide her successor, according to Katherine Ziskin, Education Fellow at the Addison. When Bernson began her career at the Addison in 1995, the museum had just begun to formalize its educational programming, according to Bernson. She was hired as the first permanent full-time staff member in the Addison’s education department. Bernson coordinated all of the educational programs at the Addison, including classes for Andover students and for other schools and the general public. Her programs sought to forge and strengthen many connections between Andover, the Addison and the outside community, through intiatives with the Andover Breadloaf program and with Lawrence communities. Ziskin said, “[Bernson] really solidified, if not created, the connections with the Addison and Lawrence public schools, to the point where whole grades will come here to the museum. From every level of it, she’s really integral to how the Addison’s interpreted by the larger community.” For example, last year Bernson showed a group of first and second graders and preschoolers from Andover the exhibit on Sheila Hicks’ artwork, made of vibrant yarn patterns. The two groups of students worked with fibers throughout the year and contributed their own ideas and shared their new works of art with the community at a café in Lawrence. Bernson also coordinated programs for many Andover classes and worked closely with faculty members of different subjects. “There’s a way in which we teach here at the museum that is also what we bring to classes, so teachers that teach those classes get to see a different model of ways to teach,” said Bernson. “That’s something I’ll be doing a little less of in my new position, so that’s something that I’ll truly miss here in terms of the kinds of ways in which we work with teachers that are really trying to shift the way teachers think about their teaching.” In her teaching at the Addison, Bernson also incorporated the Reggio Emilia approach, which focuses on group learning, according to Bernson. “It’s an approach in which the student or visitor very much leads their own learning. The teacher always comes with a certain amount of knowledge, but it’s also bringing out the students’ and the visitors’ knowledge and their own ideas,” she said. The DeCordova Museum has recently collaborated with a nearby preschool that uses the Reggio Emilia method. The museum will host the preschool and is working to reconstruct and reshape the preschool’s educational programming, according to Bernson. “They’re really thinking about how that particular education approach [the Reggio Emilia method] can help inform all of their educational programming, even beyond the preschool itself, in all the other programs they have, from family programs, to adult programs,” said Bernson. Bernson became involved with the DeCordova Museum after being invited to participate in the museum’s strategic planning meetings. Though colleagues at the Addison will miss her, they recognize that she departs for new opportunities and leaves the Addison having shaped the gallery’s educational program. Ziskin said, “[Bernson’s departure] is really bittersweet for us, at least for us in the education department and specifically me. She’s created such an incredible program here for both Phillips Academy and outside schools that it’ll be weird and hard to imagine it without her.” “However, I know that the DeCordova [Museum] has so many opportunities that she’s so interested in that it seems only right that she should go pursue those as well,” Ziskin continued. Just after college, Bernson worked in a local art gallery and frequented the Addison Gallery in her free time. After this work, she returned to school to take a Museum Studies class. Required to intern somewhere for her class, she contacted the Addison for an internship in museum education in 1995 and became involved full-time with the Addison soon after that.