Skip to content Skip to footer

Barnes Foundation Expands Education Offerings Through Online Classes

Online classes broaden accessibility to art education program and lead to 200% increase in enrollment

Philadelphia, PA, February 8, 2021—The Barnes Foundation announced today the continuation of its online classes, which launched in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 health crisis and related temporary building closures. The Barnes’s online art history classes have enabled an expansion of the institution’s educational mission, which was especially crucial during 2020, a year when the Barnes was closed for 25 weeks and in-gallery instruction was paused.

Building on the Barnes’s successful education program for adults, which has seen enrollment increase sixfold over the years—with just over 200 students in 2015 to 1,200 in 2019—the organization’s online classes have proven exceptionally popular, reaching students from around the world. Online classes will continue even when in-person classes at the Barnes recommence, as will the robust scholarship program.

“Education has and always will be at the heart of everything we do, so when we learned a temporary closure of the Barnes was imminent early last year, we pivoted quickly and prioritized moving our in-gallery classes to an online format,” said Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation. “Thanks to the vision and technical ingenuity of our talented staff, as well as the dedication of our instructors, all experts in their fields, our online classes have successfully translated the in-person learning experience into one people can enjoy from home, while retaining all the substance that students expect from Barnes classes. For many students—and for the Barnes—they have been a bright beacon in an otherwise difficult time.”

All Barnes online classes are taught live. “This interactive aspect is really important to us,” says Dr. Martha Lucy, deputy director for research, interpretation and education. “It’s much more engaging to listen to someone speaking to you in real time than it is to watch a recording—and it’s critical that students get a chance to interact with the instructor, and with each other, during our discussion sessions.” Produced entirely in-house by staff from the education, information technology, and audio visual departments, Barnes online classes utilize Deep Zoom technology, which allows instructors to hone in on brushwork and picture surfaces, offering views of the artworks that are simply not possible in-person. A new suite of 5–6 classes is offered each month, with topics ranging from Matisse and Bonnard to ancient Egyptian art to abstract expressionism. All Barnes classes are taught by art historians, artists, and conservators—a mix of Barnes staff and faculty from area universities.

“Given our educational mission, continuing with our classes—even in the face of a pandemic—was essential,” Dr. Lucy explained. “Offering in-person experiences in the collection galleries will always be central to our program, but online teaching has allowed us to vastly expand on Dr. Barnes’s groundbreaking education program. From April through December 2020, we offered 46 new classes, with more than 2,600 students from 39 states and six countries; ten percent of these students received full scholarships. Sixty percent of our enrollment last year was students who had never taken a Barnes class before, which is remarkable. By embracing the possibilities offered by technology, we’ve made art education more accessible than ever.”

The Barnes Foundation’s pioneering education program for adults builds on the original teachings of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, Violette de Mazia, and John Dewey, which emphasize the formal analysis of art and the idea that close looking helps build beneficial critical-thinking skills. In 2016, the program expanded significantly, adding new courses that use more contemporary art-historical approaches—bringing in history, social history, and politics—as well as topics focusing on artistic techniques and materials.

Class Offerings
A carefully curated array of 5 to 6 online classes are offered every month. Classes are organized into three categories.

  • Category I: The Barnes Method emphasizes close visual analysis in object-based courses, evolved from the teachings and writings of Albert Barnes and Violette de Mazia.
  • Category II: Understanding Materials and Techniques focuses on the physical aspects of how art is made.
  • Category III: Art in Context approaches art as a reflection of history, culture, and politics.

Barnes-de Mazia Certificate Program
In 2016, the Barnes launched the integrated Barnes-de Mazia Certificate Program, a two-year track offering an immersion in the Barnes Method and an introduction to more contemporary interpretive approaches. The three Category I courses in the certificate program (The Elements of Art, The Traditions of Art, and Collections Concentration) are eligible for college credit through PAFA. Additionally, through the Barnes’s educational partnership with Saint Joseph’s University (SJU), undergraduate students at SJU can enroll for credit in Traditions of Art or Elements of Art.

The Barnes offers need-based full scholarships for individual online classes. Throughout 2020, the Barnes increased access to classes by providing 268 need-based scholarships to students who otherwise may not have been able to participate. Additionally, two Violette de Mazia Scholarships are available each year for students committed to completing the Barnes-de Mazia Certificate Program. More information and details on Winter 2021 submission deadlines are available on the website.

Details on Spring 2021 courses and enrollment are available at:

Online classes are made possible by generous support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the Knight Center for Digital Innovation in Audience Engagement at the Barnes. Additional funders of digital initiatives include Betsy Z. and Edward E. Cohen.

The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its unparalleled art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity. The Barnes collection is displayed in ensembles that integrate art and objects from across cultures and time periods, overturning traditional hierarchies and revealing universal elements of human expression. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings—including the largest groups of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne in existence—the Barnes brings together renowned canvases by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent van Gogh, alongside African, Asian, ancient, and medieval art as well as metalwork, furniture, and decorative art.

The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” A visionary collector and pioneering educator, Dr. Barnes was also a fierce advocate for the civil rights of African Americans, women, and the economically marginalized. Committed to racial equality and social justice, he established a scholarship program to support young black artists, writers, and musicians who wanted to further their education. Dr. Barnes was deeply interested in African American culture and became actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance, during which he collaborated with philosopher Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson, the scholar and activist, to promote awareness of the artistic value of African art.

Since moving to Philadelphia in 2012, the Barnes Foundation has expanded its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, teaching visual literacy in groundbreaking ways; investing in original scholarship relating to its collection; and enhancing accessibility throughout every facet of its program. Hours and ticket prices are listed on our website.


Deirdre Maher, Director of Communications
Online press office: