Bible Stories

The Museum of Biblical Art Is Not Just a Glorified Sunday School

In the spring of 1997, I was hired by the American Bible Society to open a gallery dedicated to biblical art. I had just received my PhD in medieval art from NYU, and, with student loans coming due, I was (unhappily) working on Wall Street, wondering how I ended up there and when I would be able to get back to the arts.

Then this opportunity came along: the president of the American Bible Society thought an art gallery could provide a new, appealing public face to the organization, while at the same time educating a wider public in the cultural importance of the Bible and its relationship to art. The prospect was intriguing. Working for the ABS, I would be free to curate exhibitions on a wide variety of subjects. On the other hand, I’d be starting from scratch, with few resources and no institutional reputation to build from. It sounded like a transitional job—the gallery seemed unlikely to succeed—but the experience of setting it up would help me eventually find a “real” job in the arts. I weighed my options: embrace the challenge, or stay on Wall Street. It was an easy choice.

The Gallery at the American Bible Society opened in the spring of 1998 with the mission of looking at art, religion, and culture in an attempt to understand how they influence each other. The gallery space was small, with imperfect climate control (which greatly limited the loans we could obtain) and little wall space, not...

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About the Author

Ena Heller is executive director of MOBIA.