“To me, Baltimore is a collision of East Coast and Southern sensibilities, producing a culture that I have never experienced anywhere else—and it’s fascinating,” confides Chris Bedford by phone from Boston. This statement is surprising considering that the future director of the Baltimore Museum of Art has spent his 39 years living all over the Western Hemisphere.
Bedford was born in Scotland, and retains a trace of an affable Scottish burr in his accent. As a child, he lived in England and South Africa, before moving to the United States. He’s since lived in Phoenix, Ariz., Oberlin, Ohio, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Boston, where he was named the youngest museum director in America—at age 35—at the Rose Museum at Brandeis University.
“To compare it with Boston, Baltimore is a similar city of higher education and a lot of museums, but it also offers rogue, improvisational and nonprofit art spaces that don’t exist in Boston,” Bedford says. “I have the sense that Baltimore is a city in which art has been and continues to be made, and presented through fully fleshed out and integrated art contexts. This is a compelling and varied context for a museum director to function in.”
When I ask him to compare his international role as co-curator for the U.S. Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale to working at a museum in a small city—and, specifically, with local artists—Bedford claims equal enthusiasm for both, citing “an increasing awareness that global is local and local is global.” According to Bedford, “Great art is not born in designated art centers; creativity happens everywhere, as long as we are open to receiving it.”
Bedford cites the BMA’s renowned collections of African art, European painting and the Cone Collection as major incentives for him in accepting the position, calling the museum’s account of postwar art “unusually encyclopedic and stellar,” but he also admits that he was drawn to Baltimore itself and, specifically, to the challenge of activating the principal civic arts institution within the city.
Bedford describes himself as “a devout fan of certain sports, especially England’s European football team.” After almost five years in Boston, Bedford is a devoted Patriots fan, but “has no allegiance to the Red Sox,” leaving room in his heart for the Orioles. In addition, he is looking forward to experiencing adventurous local cuisine, especially seafood, calling himself a “true omnivore, limitless in my appetites and happy to try anything.”
Caught up in the process of settling in Baltimore, purchasing a house and selecting a school for his children, Bedford describes his excitement for his new city and appreciation for the genuine hospitality that has already been offered to him, especially in the form of copious and unsolicited real estate advice.
“I was most struck by a certain sensation, an atmosphere in Baltimore, and I found it rather electrifying,” he says. “It seems that there is something very real at stake for this city, that determining and articulating a positive future is still in the hands of citizens. I look forward to being a part of the institution and an intimate part of the fabric of this city.”