Travel Tuesday: The Interns Do DC!

Posted on July 16th, 2019 by

For this week’s #TravelTuesday post, we’re putting #TravelingWithGrace on hold to share some reflections from our summer interns. Last Friday they went on their DC Day field trip, exploring a variety of museums on the national mall. We asked them to share their thoughts here.


~From Intern Elana

Last Friday, the other interns and I had the opportunity to visit various museums of the Smithsonian. Personally, I started with the Freer/Sackler Museum and went to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) afterwards. I had been to the Freer/Sackler before, so I am not going to touch on that museum here.

(Though I did get some great photos of my “flat friend,” Steven, there.)

This past Friday was my first visit to the NMAI and it was an amazing experience. I started with the cafeteria, as it was lunchtime, and was able to try some Native American food, or something relatively close to that. Then, some of the other interns and I went on a gallery tour with one of the museum educators. Our guide was part of the Indigenous community and from a fairly local tribe. I really enjoyed his tour. He was able to relay the facts of the exhibition while inserting his own personal opinions and experiences as a part of the Native American community. After this tour, I explored two of the museum’s other exhibitions, “Americans” and “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire.”

I had an amazing experience at the NMAI and had some takeaways that could apply to my future museum career and my future museum visits.

The NMAI took such care in allowing the voices of Native people to shine through in every aspect of the museum, from the architecture of the building to the food served at the cafeteria to the tour guide who told his own story. As I continue in my museum career, I hope to share voices and stories as carefully and effectively as this museum has. In addition, I learned to value tours in a way I hadn’t before. I am typically not one to take a tour and though this tour, I realized that tours aren’t necessarily some random volunteer relaying facts, but that they can provide more personal insight to an exhibition. I was able to experience the exhibit in a completely different and insightful way that added to my experience.


~From Intern Megan

During the intern field trip to Washington D.C., I got the opportunity to visit a couple Smithsonian museums. This opportunity was very exciting for me because even though I live close to the district, I do not visit the city a lot. I decided at the beginning that Instead of rushing to visit a lot of museums I wanted to take the time to really look in depth at two different ones.

The first museum I visited was the Freer Gallery of Art. I looked at a few different exhibits and took the time to really process the details of the art; something I have not really done before. My favorite two exhibits were the Japanese art exhibit and the Buddha exhibit.

One piece in the Japanese art exhibit really caught my eye.

It had a very big, white canvas and the only two things on it were two women sitting in a boat on one side and some birds in the sky on the other. Overall, it was a very simplistic piece of work and I enjoyed its minimalist style; it showed that not everything that is beautiful must be complex/there is beauty in simplicity. At the same time, it was still able to portray traditional Japanese clothing that the women were wearing.

The second museum I visited was the Hirschhorn museum and sculpture garden. This museum had a lot more eccentric art which was enjoyable to walk through.

One of my favorite pieces from this museum was a painting of a person who appeared to be made out of gum or a similar substance and was stretching their face to the left and right with their hands.

I liked it not just for its uniqueness but also because the person being portrayed is not explicitly showing any emotion, leaving the audience to interpret the emotions that they want after looking at it. The artist left it up to the viewer to decide how they want to understand the piece even without knowing anything about the artist’s intentions.

Overall, the trip allowed me to take my time in the exhibits I visited and pay attention to each piece. I found that, in relation to interning at JMM, I also looked more in depth at the layout of each exhibit and wrote down some positives and negatives of the different types of setups. This is important to analyze because when creating an exhibit, it can be make-or-break how easily/effectively people are able to walk through and see everything.


~Intern Hannah

I was very excited to embark on our DC Day field trip, as I had not been to the Mall in Washington DC since a family vacation when I was in middle school. I was very excited to see some of the Smithsonian Museums there and told myself that I would try to hit as many as I could in our nearly six hour trip, where we were let loose to find our own way. I was able to go to three, which I think is pretty good, but gives me room for improvement.

At first, all the interns stuck together. We went to the Freer Museum, where we saw their exhibit called Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent. This was a beautiful exhibit focusing on beauty standards in the Indian Subcontinent, and especially how it related to their Gods. The center of this exhibit was the thirty-two body marks, called Lakshanas that make a Buddha. These marks range from long fingers and smooth and golden skin, to “jaw like a lion’s” and arms that extend below the knees. It was interesting to compare this exhibit, which was very focused on physicality, to one of the exhibits present at the JMM, Fashion Statement. Fashion Statement emphasizes the personal clothing choices that we make and asks each viewer to think about what their clothes and personal expression mean to them. I think that the Body Image exhibit leans more towards examining societies expectations of us and our bodies. Personal expression is a response to societies expectations, whether that is in the form of conforming or non-conforming, there must be something to set as a hegemony. The euro-centric standard of beauty that we hold to be true and right in Western culture is new and flawed. The beauty standard shown in this exhibit is old and true for many people. It was really refreshing to be surrounded with yes, perhaps fictional representations of the human body, but ones that felt so real and were round and robust.

“Flat Friend” Dimitri Visits the Freer.

I spent some more time walking around the Freer’s other exhibits before heading over to the National Museum of Natural History by myself to watch a tarantula feeding. I grew up deeply invested in zoos, living fifteen minutes away from the Bronx Zoo and attending summer ‘Zoo Camp’ there for many summers. Zoos and animals have a very important place in my heart so it felt very grounding to be in that space. I have visited the Natural History Museum in New York many times and I love it. It was very beautiful to stand in a circle and watch a volunteer feed this tarantula a cricket, surrounded by people of all ages, including kids, teenagers, college students, and adults. It was really cool to see how another museum, much different than the JMM, does educational programming. I then wandered around the insect area of the museum before venturing downstairs to look at all the fossils and skeletons, which is my favorite part of any natural history museum. I only spent about half an hour in the National Museum of Natural History, but I had a great time.

Dimitri at the Tarantula Feeding. He is scared of spiders, but put on a brave face.

After a nice iced coffee on the Mall, I joined interns Ariella and Elana for lunch at the café at the National Museum of the American Indian. I do not have a picture of my lunch, but let me tell you, it was delicious. The café at the NMAI features native and native-inspired recipes. We all had their version of tacos, which was fried bread topped with veggie chili and some fixing’s, which was absolutely delicious. The three of us then took a tour of the museum. The tour was really fascinating, led by a docent who is Native American himself and gave us his own views and opinions on certain topics brought up in the exhibit. It was a greatly beautiful museum, with unique architecture and layout. There were also a lot of digital interactives in the exhibits, which was very cool to see and interact with. My favorite parts of the museum were its main exhibit, Nation to Nation, which covered different treaties and agreements that the United States Government has made (and broken) with Native American Nations, and Americans, which discussed representation of Native Americans in mainstream American pop-culture, from Land-O-Lakes Butter to Pocahontas. After about an hour and a half of exploring the museum by ourselves, we met back up with the rest of the group to head home.

Dimitri and I enjoying an iced coffee and people watching in-between museums.

It was a really great day, and I had the opportunity to explore museums I had not been to before. I connected with art from around the world, my childhood, and the history of the land that we stand on. It was a very powerful day in Washington, and I hope to return to the National Mall soon to finish my journey in seeing as many museums as possible.


~From Intern Ariella

Last Friday, we had an intern trip to DC. We had the freedom to check out any museum that we wanted, with two conditions. One: we had to consider questions designed to make us think about the museums we visited compared with JMM. Two: we were given new monster friends and had to document their experiences during the day.

Coming at the day from that perspective made me visit the museums with a new perspective. Two of the institutions really stood out to me: one that I’d never seen before, and one that I’d just visited a few weeks before.

The first museum I saw was the Freer|Sackler Institute of Art. Both display the Smithsonian’s collection of Asian art and are connected underground. I’ve never paid much attention to Asian art, so I decided that this was a good time to really look at some for the first time.

At the Freer|Sackler, I was most intrigued by two exhibits. Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, designed by James McNeill Whistler, is an entire room that doubles as an art piece. Golden peacocks are painted on the dark green walls, and blue and white porcelain lines the shelves. The colors don’t seem like they should match each other — technically, they don’t — but the combination is mesmerizing regardless.

Kombucha, wide-eyed and mesmerized, in The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art.

The second exhibit I loved at the Freer|Sackler was Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia. The gallery is set up with statues depicting the Buddha, but the main draw is the other qualities of the exhibit. The walls are deep purple, creating a calming atmosphere. Two smaller rooms off the exhibit lead to extended experiences: the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, and a three-screened video depicting a day of Sri Lankan practice at the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa.

Both The Peacock Room and the Buddha exhibit showed me the power of creating an immersive space. Visitors literally step into Peacock and can sit down at a wooden table in the center of the room and observe for as long as they want. The room is silent, except for the sound of the security guard and visitors talking.

Encountering the Buddha, on the other hand, is louder. Recorded chants boom out from the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, and it’s audible from the second one enters the room. The videos of Sri Lanka have music as well, and visitors can sit on comfy couches to watch. Both exhibits succeed because they allow viewers to become as much a part of the exhibit as they can.

After leaving the Freer|Sackler, I decided to get some lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). I’d already seen NMAI, but liked the museum so much that I was happy to return. Plus, I hadn’t previously eaten at Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, the museum restaurant.

Grabbing lunch at Mitsitam wasn’t meant to be a learning experience, but I’m glad that it turned out that way. The other interns and I got the Indian Taco, a delicious combination of fry bread, veggie chili, and classic taco toppings. I loved the meal but had no idea where it originated from. Mitsitam, which is set up buffet style, didn’t explain which foods came from where.

A quick search on the NMAI website showed us what the physical space did not explain: the Indian Taco was inspired by the Great Plains cultures. It made the experience that much more immersive to know where the food we were eating had come from. I just wish that NMAI had made it more distinct from the actual lunchroom itself. They could have followed the Freer|Sackler example of fully including visitors into the experience by explaining how they were a part of the museum displays.


And because interns shouldn’t be the only ones having fun, Joanna and I also tagged along and enjoyed our own “DC Day”! We started at the Museum of Natural History, where Joanna shared with me some of the highlights from their new fossil installation, the Deep Time ExhibitionBeing an old school dinosaur nerd, I was in heaven! But possibly my absolute favorite, surprising moment was discovering the mini-display by the bathrooms – all about poop!

(Fossilized poop, to be exact.)

After a delicious lunch at the AMNH cafe, Joanna and I headed a little further afield to stop in at the National Portrait Gallery. I was hankering to finally see the Obama portraits in person – and I was not disappointed! We also explored the current exhibit Votes for Women: Portraits of Persistence. The mix of personages highlighted in the exhibit was fascinating, and I really appreciated the attention paid to various schisms in the suffrage moment, particularly those about race.

I didn’t pick up the catalog on this visit, but it’s definitely going on my wish list.

~Intern Wrangler Rachel


 

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Working with the Har Sinai Collection

Posted on July 15th, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM intern Mallory Connaughton. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.


Within the past few weeks since my last blog post, I have started a new project. I’ve started working with the Har Sinai Collection. This collection houses many aspects of Har Sinai and it’s community. It includes artefacts and manuscripts from not just the Har Sinai congregation, but also the Har Sinai brotherhood and sisterhood, the board, clergy, and cemetery, as well as many others.

The Har Sinai Congregation, Bolton Street Temple. JMM 1985.90.1.

Processing a collection involves going through a series of related documents (which is the collection) and creating a list of everything involved by grouping together like topics and creating new folders/condensing folders. The goal is to make the collection more organized and easier to find and reference. As we work with collections regularly, having it be well organized is important as it not only helps those of us working directly within the archives, but it can also help us answer guest’s questions easier as we know where and what everything is.

I have done processing before this summer. At a previous internship, I fully processed a collection for the first time. And at JMM, I had processed a collection earlier in my internship. But with the Har Sinai collection, we are re-processing the collection. The Har Sinai congregation had already been processed once before, but the finding aid we use to navigate the collection was disjointed and didn’t properly list what was actually in the collection. The other collections intern, Elana, and I went through the various boxes of the collection and re-processed everything.

Banner from the Har Sinai Website. Credit: harsinai-md.org.

Processing takes a while, having to go through every piece of paper and image one by one. Then having to organize each and every item into separate folders, label the folders, then group them into the organized boxes that make sense. Re-processing is similar, going through each file. Elana and I took time, going through each file and writing down a list of what we found in there, panning on updating the finding aid.

From there we went through and separated out everything by original folder, creating a spreadsheet with the folder and everything actually found within it. Then we are reorganizing each folder into groupings that make sense, then re-labeling boxes. The final thing we will do is updating the finding aid but the new boxes, the folders within them and what is in each folder.

While this may not be for everyone. I found it to be very interesting. I didn’t know anything about Har Sinai before this, and I’ve learned so much about the community and members connected to Har Sinai.

The collection houses folders upon folders of correspondence, ranging from personal letters, letters between congregation members, posters for events, financial records, and business correspondence. As someone who knew nothing about Har Sinai before this, being able to sort through all of the documents, seeing how they talked about events and planning, provided me with a perspective I hadn’t previously had, and allowed me to understand Har Sinai at a deeper level.

Yet the collection isn’t all correspondence. There are programs for events, transcripts of sermons given by several different Rabbis, music for the congregation (including parody songs sung at events), yearbooks from the religious school tied to Har Sinai and even a scrapbook from the Har Sinai sisterhood.

While reading through the various correspondence and events bulletins provided me with knowledge towards Har Sinai that I hadn’t known, I found the yearbooks, scrapbook and handwritten/hand drawn pieces to be incredibly interesting. Being able to see something that was created for others, carefully written or drawn out, carefully planned out, was incredibly heart-warming and amazing. To shows such a personal perspective towards the topic that is normally impossible to reach.

And it is amazing to be able to interact with and see such a perspective.


 

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So Much More Than a Number

Posted on July 12th, 2019 by

I asked the newest member of our team to write this month’s edition of Performance Counts. In her post, Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky, not only shares our phenomenal FY19 visitor numbers, but illustrates one of the reasons for our success- the incredibly dedicated and thoughtful staff we have assembled. ~Marvin. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


For some people, summer means a break a from school, or a chance to hit the beach, or chowing down at a cookout. For me, this summer has been full of learning all about the Jewish Museum, and the numbers that keep us operational and successful.

At first glance, the statistics part of my role, as Visitor Services Coordinator, doesn’t seem so exciting. I have to keep track of how many people visit each day, how many go on tours, how many come in a group and so on. It’s a part of my job that may not seem all that appealing, but in my six months at JMM, I have come to appreciate the significance of every check mark I’ve recorded.

Each number is a person who chose to spend their time and their money engaging in our stories. One number is someone learning about the history of Jonestown, where they may have lived all these years but never knew about the immigrant community. Another number is someone stepping into a synagogue for the first time. Many of the numbers are school children, engaging with their learning in a new way.

These numbers are more than just how many people walked through our doors. They’re the experiences people had at our Museum. They’re people who’ve come for the first time, or are coming back again and again, because they feel that our stories are worth supporting, sharing, and learning. Please join me in celebrating these numbers and appreciating every person who chose us as their storyteller this year.

We had plenty of unique stories to tell this year, including the stories from our Jewish Refugees and Shanghai exhibit.

If you’re not familiar with how we keep track of our statistics, here’s a quick overview.  These numbers come from our past fiscal year, July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. This is Fiscal Year 2019, or FY19. And it was one of the biggest ones we’ve had at our Museum.This last year we had over 15,000 people visit the Museum! This number represents the total onsite visitors, or the total amount of people who stepped foot onto our campus. This number exceeds our previous fiscal year, which was over 10,800 people. In fact, this number beats out our records going back to at least  FY11, the earliest year when we have a comparable method of counting.  We believe this may be the biggest year on record for the Jewish Museum’s onsite visitors, which includes general attendance, school groups, adult groups, public programs, rentals, and teacher trainings/workshops.

One of the reasons why we had such a magical year was because of our Houdini exhibit, which was open from June 2018 through January 2019. However, the momentum from Houdini didn’t leave when the exhibit did, to travel around. Our other exhibits this year, Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, My Family Story, and Fashion Statement and Stitching History from the Holocaust continued to attract visitors, with 5,890 people marked for general admission.

We loved showing off our style with our Fashion Statement exhibit, on view until September 15th!

We had 3,553 students and educators join us for those exhibits, as well as for our general education programming. This included visits to the Houdini exhibit, our Intro to Judaism program, and much more. With our Jewish Refugees in Shanghai exhibit, we were able to reach out to a whole new audience of learners, some of whom were studying Chinese, and could read both the English and Chinese sides of the exhibit panels!

Our educators love working with students to teach them about Jewish history in Maryland and beyond. Most of time, we end up learning from the students too!

The kids weren’t the only ones who had some fun learning in our Museum. We had 1,034 people visit in adult groups as well this year. These groups had a chance to find a connection not only with the Museum, but with their friends as well. Our adult groups experienced magic, laughter, and learning in our exhibits and tours, and we look forward to welcoming them back in the new fiscal year.Along with those exhibits, we had exciting programs to entice and educate our visitors. With over 50 public programs, we had a wide range of topics and activities to entice the 3,776 people who attended them! With programs ranging from book talks to seances, bake-offs to Sephardic musical performances, we had plenty of things to do last year. Of course, the fun doesn’t stop just because it’s hot out! We already have programs planned through November, so make sure to keep an eye on our Events page!

We had a grand and spooky time last Halloween, with our Houdini Séance. We hope to continue having fun with you all this year! – Photo courtesy of Will Kirk.

With so many things to do and exhibits to see at the Museum, it’s no surprise that we’re attracting people from all over. While 17% of our visitors’ hail from nearby Baltimore City and Baltimore county, this year we had 116 people visit us from other countries. These countries included Singapore, New Zealand, Poland, the UK, France, and Canada, showing us that our Museum is a destination worth traveling for in any direction!These amazing numbers this year represent more than just the success of our marketing, program planning, and outreach. These numbers are the thousands of people who have chosen to visit our Museum to listen to the stories we collect and share with our audience. Each number is a person thinking more deeply about history, whether their own Jewish history or a new culture they’ve never encountered before. Each number is someone opening their mind and their heart to our community, here in Jonestown, and we’re honored by every single one.

Thank you to everyone who visited this past fiscal year, to make FY19 a success. Please continue attending our programs, checking out our exhibits, and supporting us as members, so that we can keep sharing these incredible stories.

~Talia


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