Arts / Business development

How the Barnes got this Brooklyn technologist to move to Philly

After 17 years at the Brooklyn Museum, Shelley Bernstein joined the Barnes Foundation on May 16 to explore new intersections of art and technology.

Meet Shelley Bernstein, the Barnes Foundation's new Chief Experience Officer. (Courtesy photo)
“Excited to say I’m joining @the_barnes as the Deputy Director of Digital Initiatives and Chief Experience Officer.”

For the past two weeks, this brief tweet has been pinned to the top of Shelley Bernstein’s Twitter profile. After 17 years of living in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, the former Vice Director of Digital Engagement & Technology at the Brooklyn Museum moved to Fishtown and joined the Barnes Foundation.
The technologist behind interactive installations like Split Second: Indian Paintings and GPS-powered museum info initiatives like ASK came to Philly, not to simply replicate those projects in the Barnes Foundation, but to find new and unique intersections of technology and art.
“We want to be able to do things that are a nice marriage between the existing experience of the place and also enhancing it,” Bernstein said during her first week on the job.
But why move to Philly after having her career so deeply connected to the Brooklyn art scene? In this installment of our ongoing Entrance Exam series, we’ll let Bernstein explain in her own words.


Why’d you take this new job and move to Philadelphia?
One of the things that interested me in this position as a technologist is that the environment of the Barnes Foundation is very static. The walls don’t change. It was a way for me to become inspired by the challenge. I had a lot of discussions with the directors and found a very clear strategic plan. I think the tech, digital and experience layer is really at the heart of the organization. From beginning to end this is new and that was exciting.
How did your peers in Brooklyn react when you said you were coming to Philly?
People were unbelievably supportive. It surprised me and warmed my heart, having been associated with Brooklyn for so long, to turn around and have people’s support as I took this challenge.
Speaking of challenge, what projects will you be taking on at the Barnes?
Over the next few months, we’re going to be looking at a lot of data. That’s the first thing. Second thing: we’ll figure out what questions we need to be asking. Third thing: we’ll be doing plenty of observation from the moment visitors hit the street corner. After that, we’ll start testing ideas.
And how does the Philly tech scene come into this?
I think if we’re doing our jobs right and we’re starting a tech program, it needs to be very well connected to the tech community. Not just tech but academic. That means opening up the facility, our collection, open sourcing things. Everything we can do, we will do.
What was your first week like?
It’s familiar and yet completely different. It’s familiar in the sense that I come with a series of experiential models and yet its unfamiliar because its a completely different place. It’s a completely new thing and it’s exciting. My coworkers have been incredibly welcoming and excited about this kind of position here.
So far, have you found any similarity between Brooklyn and Philly?
Well, Brooklyn is a series of communities. The neighborhood pride in Brooklyn is ahead of municipal pride. One of the things that I loved when visiting Philly is finding that same community spirit.
Where in Philly did you move to?
I moved to Fishtown and have been so thrilled with the generosity of the community. People there are curious about you, about what you do, about your dog. … I’ve only been here for one week, and it’s been fantastic.
Out of all the neighborhoods, how did you settle on Fishtown?
Me and my partner spent a weekend doing nothing but walking areas of the city, looking for a place that felt right. I’m from Texas originally, so what I liked about Fishtown, that I also found in Red Hook, is that it provides access to the sky. There’s more width in how the streets come together.
Any spot in Philly you’re eager to explore?
I’m an avid cyclist, and I cycle from Fishtown to parts of the Schuylkill River Trail. I can’t wait to ride it all the way up. It’s unbelievably beautiful.

Companies: Brooklyn Museum / Barnes Foundation

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