Exploring Next Narratives

Posted on March 25, 2016 by

This year’s Council of American Jewish Museum’s (CAJM) annual conference took place in NY from March 20-22 and focused on the topic of “Next Narratives”. Conversation flowed surrounding the topic of storytelling with many thought provoking sessions devoted to exploring how Jewish museums can develop new more inclusive narratives through exhibitions, programs and outreach initiatives.

2016 CAJM Conference

2016 CAJM Conference

The conference lineup was impressive and featured artists, scholars, museum professionals and philanthropists. The opening plenary highlighted novel storytelling methods with presentations by Annie Polland of the Tenement Museum, author Bruce Feiler and artist and filmmaker, Tiffany Shlain. I was reminded again about just what a brilliant job the Tenement Museum does in telling stories about the immigrants who inhabited 97 Orchard Street and loved Annie’s endorsement of “messy storytelling” by training guides to learn how to give unscripted tours that incorporate participants’ stories. You can find out more about the Tenement Museum’s tours and programs at tenement.org.

Another thought provoking session, “The Ten-Foot Pole of Jewish Museums: Where is the Religious Narrative?” raised a rather provocative issue – are Jewish museums afraid to wrestle with religious content in meaningful ways? One of the panelists, Melanie Holcomb from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shared how a beautiful musical installation that her staff created at the Cloisters enhanced visitor engagement with religious art. The discussion among participants following the panelists was particularly insightful.

Audience engagement through non-traditional means was emphasized in the final panel of the conference, “Audacious Space: Rethinking Gallery Engagement”.

Audience engagement through non-traditional means was emphasized in the final panel of the conference, “Audacious Space: Rethinking Gallery Engagement”.

Colleagues from The Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco), The Jewish Museum (NY), the National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia) and Museum Hack highlighted work that they have done to bring in new audiences through such means as providing contemporary artists opportunities to create installations based on their interpretation of collections and exhibitions (often displayed in unusual spaces). The Contemporary Jewish Museum has developed a popular series of 20-minute gallery chats that provide visitors with the chance to hear from a diverse group of speakers who have some connection to exhibition content. (Check out current offerings developed for the Bill Graham exhibit.)

Museum Hack, a tour company that is not affiliated with a museum, has a reputation for leading highly entertaining tours that are popular with millennials. This presentation was especially fun and audience members enjoyed participating in an activity creating stories of individuals portrayed in famous art portraits. For more about the irreverent approach that Museum Hack takes to developing its interactive tours with the tagline “This Isn’t Your Grandma’s Museum Tour” check out museumhack.com.

In addition to the valuable content gleaned from sessions, the CAJM conference also offers plenty of opportunities for networking with colleagues from across the country as well as from Canada, Europe and Israel. Taking advantage of the many amazing cultural venues in New York, attendees had the chance to view multiple exhibits, including Beit Hatfutsots’ exhibit Here Comes the Bride: [pdf] at Temple Emanue-el.

At the Jewish Museum we viewed an incredible exhibit displaying gowns, sketches and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi.

At the Jewish Museum we viewed an incredible exhibit displaying gowns, sketches and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi.

Center for Jewish History

Center for Jewish History

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

 

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