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Tribute to Triumph of Imagination That Lives on at The Barnes Foundation

Many hoped this day would never come but today the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA, will permanently close the unique galleries whose breathtaking collections of post-Impressionist and early modern art are a testament to “the imagination of an unreasonable man”. Although the collection will be relocated to Philadelphia, it will not ever again be seen exactly as Dr. Albert Barnes intended it to be seen.

My family made our first (and unfortunately last) visit to the Barnes Foundation last week: 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezanne’s 46 Picasso’s, 56 Matisse’s as well as Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Modigliani, among others great works. The entire story, and images of the art, can be found @

That one man could pull together such a collection during the early decades of the 20th century, guided by a vision not shared at the time by the traditional art establishment, is an inspiring example of how most failures are failure of imagination, and how the courage to take leaps of imagination can achieve outcomes that endure for all time. That was one of the most valuable things I learned in writing my most recent book, The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men.

Notwithstanding it being a completely separate field, I can’t help thinking of the similarities with Dr. Steve Hoffman, whose work is featured so prominently in that book. Hoffman has devoted his life to developing a vaccine for malaria. The disease infects nearly 300 million people a year and kills close to a million children, mostly very poor children in Africa. There has never been a vaccine for malaria or any parasitic disease for that matter, and the notion of eradicating the disease was considered so unrealistic that for many years eradication was referred to as “the E word”. You can just imagine the legion of naysayers that greeted Hoffman’s determination to confront conventional wisdom and pursue a course aimed at eliminating malaria once and for all.

Today Hoffman is in clinical trials with a vaccine that may prove more effective than any than any that have come before. Others, like GlaxoSmithKline are also advancing potential solutions.  The UN Malaria Envoy Ray Chambers, whose long and impressive philanthopic track record includes revitalizing Newark and creating America’s Promise to deliver more services to children, predicts a future with zero deaths from malaria.  And Bill and Melinda Gates have also embodied “the imagination of the unreasonable” in using unprecedented amounts of funding to inspire new possibilities.

Like Dr. Barnes outside of Philadelphia, Hoffman also took on the establishment, traveled an unconventional and therefore lonely path, was dismissed at first and then won the grudging respect of competitors. Like Barnes he had a singular vision, one intended to represent the interests of those not typically represented. That always creates push-back. In Barnes case, the pushback was so strong that it resulted in today’s closing of the gallery in Merion, and a move of the art to Philadelphia, some would say against his literal will. In Hoffman’s case, it’s all documented in The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men @

If you like rooting for the underdog, learn more about Steve Hoffman and Albert Barnes. You’re sure to be inspired along the way.

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