Jun 07

Leslie Bedford’s Alumni Award Acceptance May 17, 2013

Posted by BSCAA in The Alumni Blog on Jun 07, 2013

On May 17, 2013, Bank street's Alumni Association presented Leslie Bedford, former Chair of Bank Street College of Education's Leadership in Museum Education Program, with an Ida Karp Award to honor her consistent and outstanding dedication to Bank Street College, its philosophy, and its long term goals.

The following is Leslie's award acceptance speech:

Leslie BedfordHow lucky and honored I feel to be treated as an alumna of Bank Street College. I cannot count the number of times in the thirteen years of my time as director of the museum leadership program that I thought "I wish I'd been in this program and learned all this great stuff, our unique mix of museum management and education." And, to be candid, how often I've looked at some of the practice, past and present, of our colleagues in the museum field and wished they had, too. It occurred to me that I probably retired because I felt it was time to graduate. I had finally gotten a handle on strategic planning, civic engagement, adult development, imaginative education and all the other things I had never studied before.

It is really important to point out the obvious: this program has always been a collaborative process. Over time we created I think a really fine team whose members came from different parts of the museum field with different graduate degrees behind them—because as we teach you, one should never hire autobiographically– but they share an impressive depth of experience in the field and a deep commitment to the students. Janet Rassweiler, a graduate of the museum ed program whose has the school’s values including the meaning of advisement, in her bones, stepped up on numerous occasions including this past year when she volunteered to serve as interim director; the entire school owes her a debt of gratitude; Bill Burback whose deeply felt love of art always resonates with our students working in art museums and has an uncanny intuitive understanding of adult behavior that keeps his advisees on the straight and narrow ; Laura Roberts who brilliantly taught me and everyone else about strategic planning and consistently kept us focused on the task at hand as well as the big picture;. We were also lucky enough to work with Claudine Brown a recipient of a Bank St alumnae award a few years ago just as she became asst secretary for education and access at the Smithsonian and finally Justin Estoque also from the Smithsonian who has been flying in every month from his new position in Los Angeles.

A number of my colleagues at the college have also worked with us over the years including Katie O’Donnell, Nancy Nager, Nina Jaffe, Nina Jensen, Roberta Altman, Mayra Bloom, Virginia Casper Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale, many many times Emily Whiteand of course Rima Shore and Barbara Coleman who understood and supported my rather lone wolf aka entrepreneurial way of working. They let us fly pretty low under the radar. I don’t know how much longer that will work but it was the only way in my opinion to build a program up at the time. I will be grateful to them for this forever.

And finally and most importantly there are the students. They have been a diverse group of adults and I want to mention a couple so that you can understand what I think is special about this program:

Elaine was 50 years old when she joined us. She had been a social worker her whole career and was burned out. So when she saw a posting for a part-time job at someplace call PTM she figured it was some kind of HMO and applied. It turned out to be Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum, a children’s museum deeply committed to its urban community. Elaine quickly rose through the ranks but realized she needed grounding in the museum field and came here to learn how to transition from social work to museum education, two fields with more in common than many in the field, though not Bank Streeters, might think. She was Vice President for Education when she tragically died in her late 50s. She taught us that with the right scaffolding of museum theory and practice we could help turn an outstanding professional into an outstanding museum professional.

Unlike Elaine, Denise was in her early thirties when she came here and like most of our students was already a savvy museum educator. She was born, raised and employed in southern California but had gone to college in the east and took a flyer on coming here for graduate school. She became the first and then the recruiter for a long line of west coasters who opted to take the red eye to NY on a Thursday, grab a few hours of sleep and spend their weekends with us before flying back home. Denise showed us that we could and should be more ambitious and expansive; the resulting mix of age, ethnicity, institution, location and point of view helped create a wonderfully fertile atmosphere for learning.

I also think of Jon who first applied at the ripe age of 23. I told him he was too young and green. But he didn’t give up and came back the following year with the announcement that he wanted to be an executive director. So I said, “Okay, you had better come then.” He wrote his IMP on the governance of his fledging institution, the National Museum of Poetry in DC a going concern today. Jon reminded us that we aren’t just training educators but really senior management.

For eight years in a row—the last one is finishing this June—we have had students from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Altogether four outstanding young women. Their department head and executive director both believe deeply in professional development and recognize that this program doesn’t just benefit the students but the institutions where they work as well.

Recently I visited one of my former students at the AMNH and asked him to tell me about his arc of understanding—the narrative we require second year students to present as the framework for their final graduation portfolios. It was terrific, exactly the kind of big picture thinking that should frame one’s individual work, one’s department and institution and the entire field –the kind of thinking the faculty work so hard to model and instill. Once again I was floored by how much growth can take place over two years here. And that reminded me of the joy of being the education game. As most of the people in this room know, we really can make a difference, one person at a time.

While I was working here I decided it was time to do something I had thought about but never acted on for years. In my late fifties I decided to go back to school and get a doctorate. Linda Levine, by the way, wrote one of the reference letters to Union Institute for me.

So I was a student at the same time as my students and thus was able to experience first hand the significance of one of our truly core values: the unbreakable bond between theory and practice. There is no substitute for both having big ideas derived from deep engagement with theory and also and at the same time evaluating and refining them through practice. This of course is the heart of reflective practice.

When Linda wrote that I had been nominated for this award she said I should talk about what I gained from Bank Street. I desperately wanted to be original but at the end of the day I realized what I gained from Bank Street was what everyone gains: a deep faith in the values and efficacy of experiential or progressive education. While the What and the How of it will and should keep evolving with the times, the bedrock, the fundamental Why will remain who we are.

I am grateful and proud to be part of this extraordinary community of practice and look forward to watching, albeit from the sidelines, as the program enters its next phase of experimentation and growth with new leadership. But for now I know what I am: an alumna of Bank Street College

And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to realize that.

tagged alumni, bscaa, leslie bedford, museum
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