superstar of culture

noun [ C ] / su·​per·​star of cul·​tur /

a cultural change-maker; a champion of all things arts, culture, and education-related; a leader within the arts and culture field; an individual that we can all learn from

see also: cultural superhero, cultural role model

  • Clare Murray

Rebekah "Becky" Beaulieu (PhD), the story of success

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

Twenty years ago, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine mounted an exhibition celebrating the thread of connection between three generations of America’s first family of the art world. The exhibition, “Wondrous Strange: Three Generations of Wyeth Art,” celebrated something at the heart of the beauty of the museum field – that art and the impact it has on us transcends the dichotomy of past/present/future, much like education. Perhaps even more importantly, though, the exhibition just so happened to strike a vital cord of inquiry and inspiration in the young, sixteen-year-old Rebekah “Becky” Beaulieu.

Becky, who has since gone on to become a key figure and leader in the museum world, attributes the start of her career to that exhibition. While reflecting this February, in anticipation of sharing her story and words of wisdom with Superstars of Culture, she commented:

“Was this exhibition the largest or most commercially successful show I have ever experienced? Definitely not! But for many who discover their vocation in the arts, there often exists a pivotal moment at which they are struck, as if by lightning. That exhibition was my moment, and I consider myself so fortunate to have found my passion relatively early in life.”

In the many years, graduate programs, internships, jobs, and leadership positions that have followed, Becky has demonstrated a commitment to celebrating that something at the heart of the beauty of the museum field that she discovered in 1998 at the Farnsworth. Both academically and professionally, Becky has sought ways of understanding the museum world inside and out. She has pursued not only a Masters in Art History and Museum Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (after earning her Bachelors in American Studies at The George Washington University), but also a Masters in Arts Administration from Columbia University and a PhD in American and New England Studies from Boston University. If that is not impressive enough, she also assumed the full-time position of Associate Director at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (with mentoring responsibilities attached) while completing her PhD dissertation and publishing her first book, Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (Rowman & Littlefield). Over the course of her career thus far, she has managed to move up the ladder of leadership remarkably swiftly from Development Associate and Capital Campaign Coordinator at the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago in 2005 to Director at the Florence Griswold Museum in 2018.

To my question about how she has managed to do this all, she commented:

“I think that my experience as a whole, though most obvious during my time as a full-time employee at Bowdoin while completing my dissertation, illuminates a dedication to both administration and content. Now, did I expect to be someone who enjoys revising contracts or creating budgets when I was 16 and falling in love with art? Nope! But I was so invested in a career in the arts that I pushed myself to learn skills that I thought may make me a valuable candidate for future positions. One of the benefits of that approach is that I have gained fluency in the different languages of museum life: finance, facilities, fundraising, and curatorial and educational content. I hope that sense of empathy and shared experience makes me a more effective and communicative professional. I will say that in my career, art and museum work led to the development of the most practical abilities I have today, such as a comfort with math and strategic planning. I was absolutely terrible at math when I was growing up, because it never resonated with me. Once it was in the context of museums, I pushed myself past my comfort zone to work hard to learn what I had previously considered an impossibility. We should understand that the more we incorporate art and museums into mainstream education, the better we are able to teach critical thinking, encourage analytical and evaluative skills, and elucidate history and culture – and if there is anyone like me out there, even math!”

The impact she has had throughout her journey in the museum world stretches beyond the quantitative evidence of institutional success that she has realized, though that evidence is tremendous. The impact she has had is personal; she has reignited that spark of something special observed at the Farnsworth twenty years ago museum-world-wide. When I asked Becky about the most rewarding part of being a superstar and leader in the museum field, she eloquently (and may I add subconsciously!) returned to that something at the heart of the beauty of the museum field:

“I am at this wonderfully reflective point at which I have a generation of leaders before me from whom I am able to learn, and I have a generation of leaders that follow who are eager to make meaningful contributions. It is cyclical, organic, and honestly a pleasure to be able to engage with leaders of all ages and backgrounds. It is truly gratifying to have a seat at the table, so to speak.”

She elaborated:

“If there is any impact I can make… it is to encourage confidence in one’s abilities: if you don’t want anyone to make assumptions regarding your skills, intelligence, and/or capacity for learning, you must have faith in yourself and a sense of curiosity. I also like to tell people to dismantle their understanding of failure. I have faced situations in which I have failed publicly and I have failed spectacularly. And I probably will again! But I’d rather be ‘the comeback kid’ (as my husband affectionately calls me) than to give up.”

Regardless of whether Becky encounters success or failure, she remains resolute in her quest to champion the arts and the impact they have on us as something that can and will persist over time and over change. To Becky, the arts are not just a necessary part of education; they are our way of transcending dichotomies and strengthening communities. In her own words:

“Museums aren’t about individuals, they are about the collective experience in a shared environment. I think the most rewarding part of working in museums is that our work is about education and culture. We get to tell amazing and insightful stories, craft engaging narratives, and showcase artworks, material culture, buildings, gardens – in so many ways, we are stewards of the best things in our world, and we are fortunate enough to offer unique and unforgettable experiences to people.”

Superstar snapshot: Rebekah “Becky” Beaulieu PhD

Superstar strength: confronting fear

Superstar secret talent: bridging gaps in communication

Superstar noteworthy quote: “remember when you wanted what you currently have”

(photo credits: Rebekah "Becky" Beaulieu PhD)


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