For the most part, a handful of places impact the trajectory of your life. For Everson’s newest trustee, Bishop Dr. H. Bernard Alex, the Everson is one of those places.
As a child, Bernard had an insider’s view of the museum, exploring every inch of the IM Pei-designed building that his father managed and meticulously maintained.
As a high school student, Bernard stood on the stage at Everson’s auditorium and successfully auditioned for a vocal scholarship to the Metropolitan School of Arts. This led him to study with world renowned vocal coach, Jo Estill, and perform in places he had only dreamed of visiting.
Bernard’s father, Gus Alex, was Everson’s beloved superintendent for over 32 years and his long career at Everson exposed him and his children to many important events in the world. history of the museum.
“I remember when the Jackson Five came to visit us in 1975, and I was able to meet them and have lunch with them in the conference room. It was very important to me,” recalls Bernard.
“I remember the day the Scarab Vase was stolen, when Yoko Ono and John Lennon came, and the protests around the Boys Playing Soccer play.” Boys Playing Soccer is a sculpture by John de Andrea of two naked boys playing soccer. It caused great controversy at the museum when it debuted in an exhibit in 1972 and was even criticized by The New York Times.
Recounting the memorable events his father witnessed and contributed to allowed Bernard to understand how art can impact societal structures. “I was exposed to the world because of the Everson.”
“My view of artists was different from other people I grew up with. They might see them as bohemians or hippies, but I saw them as people who had a 360 degree view of the world. I remember standing and looking at the depth of color in a Maxfield Parrish room and getting lost in it. Looking at the water, I thought: “one day I will see places like this”, and I succeeded. I’ve sung in concert halls everywhere, and it all started at Everson Auditorium.
Gus’ career with the Everson had other lasting impacts. This inspired him to explore his own artistic talents.
Unbeknownst to his family, Gus started painting abstracts and as his hobby grew so did the size of his art. “They got bigger and bigger, he started painting these huge canvases,” says Bernard. “Now each of us children has one of his paintings hanging in our house.”
Gus even had an exhibition at the Community Folk Art Center and continued to be an avid painter long after his retirement from Everson in 1996. a few words.”
In the early years when Gus worked as a janitor in the evenings, the museum, then called the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, was located on James Street and, as Bernard recounts, “He couldn’t read when he started, and his work orders would be written for him on a yellow notepad. So he would run from the Everson to where we lived in Townsend’s projects, have my mom read the work orders to him, and then run back before anyone knew.
Resourceful as he was, Gus’ illiteracy was a source of frustration and pain. “At one point, when I was little, I remember asking him: ‘Dad, can you read this book to me.’ He just lowered his head and walked out,” says Bernard.
“The next thing I knew, my dad was going to night school.”
Gus started attending Washington Irving Night School after working all day at the Everson. “It showed me that whatever your fate in life, you can adapt and change. You can pivot and move in a new direction.
This valuable lesson led Bernard on a journey from vocal performer (a practice he continues), to curriculum writer, and ultimately to his calling as a pastor, community leader, and activist. As a pastor for thirty years now, the last twenty for Victory Temple Fellowship Church, Bernard’s work brings needs-based programs to the Northside community of Syracuse and beyond.
“Our mission is to meet and serve the community with a consistency of compassion and care,” explains Bernard. He is particularly proud of his church’s community food program, of which he is the chef.
The programs he coordinates emerge from conversations with members of his congregation and community. After learning that a young mother was washing her children’s clothes with dish soap, Bernard teamed up with Crouse Hospital to host a giveaway of laundry supplies. After four gifts, they served nearly a thousand Northside residents.
Another resident noted the lack of activities for families and children near the Skyline apartments. Bernard responded by partnering with the City of Syracuse, Healthy Start, area business owners and Crouse Hospital to host a community-wide festival.
At the height of the pandemic, his church was selected by the Onondaga County Office of Social Services as the site to administer its rental assistance program.
“Because community members trust us and may not be as willing to work with the county office, we were able to process them through the system and get them the help they needed,” says Bernard. . “We met people where they were, without judgement, without unnecessary questions. If you meet the requirement, we have helped you, that’s it.
Now, as a newly elected member of the Everson Board of Trustees, Bernard plans to bring his natural propensity for community building to help the Everson bring the transformational impact of art to more residents of the city. city of Syracuse. He believes the Everson is a place where children in the communities it serves can be exposed to new worlds and possibilities by walking a few blocks from home.
“I want to see the doors of the museum proverbially open for these kids, so it’s not just a landmark to meet their friends nearby, but a space they feel welcome in at all times.”
In his new role, he hopes to encourage more interactive exhibitions that “allow touch and engage people’s senses, providing tangible opportunities to engage with art, even to see their own work on display”.
The importance of serving on the board of directors of Everson, a place that meant so much to his family, is not lost on Bernard. “My father loved the museum, his colleagues loved it and they loved me too. I think about what the Everson meant to me, and I want to pass that same legacy on to my grandson.
Gus Alex died in 2007, having lived what Bernard describes as “a full and rewarding life”. He remains ever present within the walls of Everson and in the memory of his family, friends, former colleagues and all who knew him.