Why Museums Need Guinea Pigs

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by

A few days ago we had our first opportunity to test out the educational programs we’d created for school groups visiting The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. The 8th graders at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School were brave enough to sign up to be our guinea pigs!

Picture 1

Checking out the exhibit

Going into it, our education staff was unsure if we could manage more than ten students at a time inside the maze. Nightmareish images of children hiding in unseen corners and running roughshod over the interactives flooded our minds. Limiting the number of students allowed in the maze at one time would of course make planning field trips for large groups very awkward. We had to be creative about our use of time and space. The plan we came up with was based on the average group size of 40 students. We would split them in half—20 and 20—between Voices of Lombard Street and The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen. The 20 in Mendes Cohen would then be split again—10 and 10. The first group of ten would be led through the exhibit, while the second group did an archival activity in the Orientation Space. They would switch at 15 minutes, and then, at the half hour mark, switch with their classmates in Voices, and repeat.

Picture 2

Hard at work

We learned a lot by observing a school group go through the exhibit. The first thing we learned—much to our relief—is that it’s not as terrifying to take students through the maze as we’d imagined. We decided that it would not be impossible to even take up to 20 students at a time. The next thing we learned was that we really needed to give the students more time to go through the exhibit. It has so much to offer—from the fun of going through a maze, to the neat objects on display, and the hands-on interactives dispersed throughout the corridors and “rooms”—and no one was benefitting from having to rush through it.

The teacher also expressed her disappointment that we had put as much emphasis on the archival activity as on the exhibit itself. She felt that the archival activity could as easily be done in the classroom as at a museum, and she’d hoped for a more hands-on experience for her students. While I don’t think we should completely discount the appropriateness of utilizing our primary resources during a museum visit (many schools have limited access to these kinds of resources), we did take her critique to heart.

Afterwards, we went back to brainstorming:  how could we supply just enough structure to make the school’s visit intellectually stimulating without making it seem like just another day in the classroom? How could we best get a group of students to not just walk through the maze, but to actually engage with its content? We had previously assumed that these two activities had to be separated—hence the archival activities. Now we needed to come up with a way of bringing the two together.

A major theme of the exhibit is the puzzle of Mendes Cohen’s complex identity. The exhibit seeks to demonstrate the different aspects of his character with his objects, letters, and actions. There are puzzle pieces scattered throughout the exhibit that list his attributes—e.g. “Family Man” and “Proud Jew.” Each of these puzzle pieces lifts up to reveal a question about how we know that Mendes was all of these things. At the end of the exhibit, we turn the question to the visitor: what are the attributes that make up you?

Picture 3

A “make your own” puzzle piece

It was this central theme that led our Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon, to a breakthrough idea. For the next school group that visits us, we will ask the students to work in pairs to find each of the puzzle pieces in the exhibit, and to write down the answer to each one’s question.  At the end of the exhibit, we will ask them to think of attributes that describe their own class. Each pair will contribute their attribute to a piece of the class puzzle that they will then get to take back to school with them!

We are very excited about this new plan! It can be daunting to have to go back to the drawing board after working so hard to come up with the first lesson plans, but actually knowing what it looks like to take a school group through the exhibit helped us shape what we hope will be an even better one.

 

abby krolikA blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights: Dear Abby – The Mendes Cohen Edition

Posted on September 12th, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

My wife and I have an unfortunate tendency of putting things off—even past the last minute, sometimes! It’s quite a problem in our lives, as you might imagine. But what saddens us the most is when we just barely miss seeing an exhibit at the JMM.  And it’s always like that—we came to see the Civil War exhibit just a month after it closed, and we came to see The Electrified Pickle just one week after that closed.

We really don’t want to miss this next one—the Mendes Cohen exhibit—so, for once in my life, I’m going to (gulp!)…plan ahead! Unfortunately, my wife and I will be out of town this weekend, when the exhibit opens. I hope the exhibit will be here for more than just a few weeks! Please tell me, how long will the Mendes exhibit be on display?

And while I’m asking about it, could you clarify for me what the exhibit will be like? Nothing against mazes, but that sounds like the exhibit is geared more towards kids than adults. Is that true?

Thanks for your help!

Always A Little Late 

 

Dear Always Late,

I can certainly relate to procrastinating every once in awhile (OK, maybe it’s a little more than just “once in a while”!). Fortunately, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen is going to be with us for a long time. We will have the exhibit on display here for a whole nine months! It opens this Sunday, September 14, 2014 (just in time for the Star Spangled Spectacular celebrations), and it will close on Sunday, June 14, 2015. That should give you plenty of time to plan a visit here. Also, if you are on our email mailing list, you will receive several reminders each month of all the wonderful public programs we’ll be having.

We always strive to have something for everybody in our exhibits, and this is no exception. The Mendes exhibit includes both artifacts and thoughtful content about the life of Mendes Cohen in the context of what was happening in Baltimore, in the country, and in the world. While history is not always enough to capture the attention of some, we hope that the interactives scattered throughout the maze (and the very concept of the maze itself) will do the trick.

See you soon (I hope)!

Abby

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Deborah and Ilene hard at work!

Editor’s note: The following letter to Dear Abby arrived in the form of a telegram. We have reproduced the message as authentically as possible. We previously had no idea telegrams were still possible.

TO: DEAR ABBY

FROM: MRS. JACOB B. FANCYPANTS, III.

MESSAGE: Have not yet received my pass to the members opening [STOP] Not a member, but should be OK [STOP] You know who I am, right? [STOP] Will be on 0500 train from NYC Fashion Wk. to Balt. Penn [STOP] Am looking forward to private tour of Mendes exhibit [STOP] Pls. confirm w/my P.A. at jane.smithATgmail.com [STOP] Thanks [STOP] Ta! [STOP]

END OF MESSAGE

 

Dear Ms. Smith,

I received the telegram from your boss, Mrs. Jacob B. Fancypants. Wow, who knew you could still send a telegram? It must be really interesting being her personal assistant. But I digress…

Please inform Mrs. Fancypants that, while the opening is only open to current members of the JMM, she is more than welcome to—in fact she is encouraged to—buy a membership when she arrives at the Museum. We will be happy to have her at our event!

While the exhibit, with its small spaces, does not lend itself easily to docent-led tours, groups may call in advance (to me) by at least a week to book a docent to take them through. However, I believe that the exhibit has so much detail and information that walk-in visitors who self-guide through the maze will come out with just as rich an experience. Additionally, we are developing a special tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue in honor of the Mendes exhibit. Because Mendes Cohen and his family were always at the forefront of using the latest technologies available, the tour will shed light on technological firsts in Baltimore and at the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

This tour will take the place of the 3:00pm tour and will debut on November 9, 2014.

I hope the two of you will be able to come to our members’ opening this Sunday evening, and many other programs as well! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if either of you have any questions (though perhaps email or phone would be easier than telegram.)

Best Wishes,

Abby

Mendes Intro Panel_v4

Dear Abby,

All my life, I have been inexorably  drawn to the intricacies of the physics of the time-space continuum, and over the years, I’ve become a self-educated expert on the topic. Therefore, I was delighted to hear that your museum will be displaying an exhibit dedicated to the truly extraordinary life of Mendes I. Cohen.

You are probably wondering right now what does Mendes I. Cohen have to do with the time-space continuum. And well you might ask that! This unique individual has come to my attention through my studies because of his uncanny appearances all over time and space. Not only is he present at the pivotal Battle of Baltimore in 1814, but he also serves as president of the Maryland Historical Society in the early 1900s. Since he was born in 1796, that would make him at least 104 years old at the start of his tenure at the historical society—a feat that was virtually impossible in those days! It is my belief, then, that Mendes I. Cohen was—or rather, is—a time traveller.

I am further supported in my belief by other “impossible” sightings: just last weekend, he was sighted at the anniversary celebrations of the Battle of North Point, and I have reason to believe, from careful scrutiny of contemporary photographs, that he was present at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy! There is clearly something very mysterious about Mendes I. Cohen. In fact, he will be the subject of my next scholarly book, Mendes I. Cohen: Secrets of the Universe and its Time Travelling Assassin, which will—fingers crossed!—be published sometime next year. You will probably hear from me then about having a book talk at the museum. (Please see attachment with 1000 page excerpt from the manuscript.)

In the mean time, I would be much obliged if I could request some assistance from you. Judging from the level of detail contained in your exhibit, it would seem that you have some special connection or knowledge of Mendes I. Cohen and his whereabouts. Again, I would be much obliged if you would arrange a tête à tête for the two of us. We have so much to discuss! When we do have this meeting, is it permissible to take photographs? It would be purely for purposes of scientific evidence, I assure you.

Sincerely,

Doc D. Lorean 

 

Dear Doc,

While your theory about Mendes Cohen is fascinating, I must point out at least one part of your argument that I know to be incorrect. The Mendes Cohen who was president of the Maryland Historical Society is not the same Mendes Cohen who fought in the Battle of Baltimore—the former was the nephew of the latter! It can be very confusing when close relatives have identical names, so the mistake is an understandable one.

Barring a sèance, I probably can’t arrange a meeting between you and the real Mendes Cohen. Probably. What I can do, however, is arrange a performance of our living history character version of Mendes Cohen, played by the very talented Grant Cloyd. Mendes Cohen has joined our lively lineup of living history characters based on real Baltimoreans, including Ida Rehr, Saul Bernstein, and Bessie Bluefeld. Each of them can be hired to perform a one act play based on their lives that lasts about 45 minutes (with 15 minutes for questions) for either adult or school age audiences.  They can also be hired to walk around in character at an event. If you want to book them, or just find out more information, please contact me and I will do my best to help you!

Photography at these performances is generally allowed—though please don’t use flash as that can disturb the actor. At the exhibit here at the Museum, it’s a similar guideline (photography without flash is allowed), with a few exceptions: the case of Egyptian antiquities, the travel documents, and the passport are all items that we have borrowed from other museums, and so we cannot give general permission to photograph them.

I hope this was helpful to you. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out!

Best Wishes,

Abby

_RWK3797

Greetings and Salutations Mmlle. Abigail,

I sincerely wish you do not think me too forward for sending you a letter without a formal introduction, but I am told that you are the one to approach on matters regarding visiting the Jewish Museum of Maryland and its lovely souvenir and books shop. Although Baltimore is my homeland, these days I am but a weary traveler of many places and dimensions, and am no different than the majority of tourists who enjoy collecting mementos from the various stops on their journeys.

Word has reached my ears that your historical establishment is about to present an exhibition dedicated to the life and works of one Mendes Cohen (or have you done so already? Forgive me, I sometimes get confused about this sort of thing). I must confess, I am unusually familiar with this particular character, and I would care to have some memento of his new-found general notoriety.

If it would please you to catalog the items relating to Mr. Cohen that will be for sale in your shop for the duration of the exhibition, I would be most grateful. In addition to a desire to expand my own collection of sentimental trinkets, I believe that it never hurts to have a store of potential gifts for future occasions.

Ever your humble friend,

M.C.

 

Dear M.C.,

Of course I don’t think you’re too forward! I receive letters, emails, and phone calls from perfect strangers all the time. It’s just part of my job.

I would be happy to tell you all of The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen themed items we will be selling in the giftshop. Esther, our gift shop manager, is very excited about our offerings! We’ll have early 19th century children’s toys and games as well as a more modern artistic take on Mendes Cohen in paper doll form. Going off of the maze aspect of the exhibit, we will be selling maze games for all ages—several of them are 3D mazes, and one even has lasers!

For those who think they’re too old for games and lasers (not sure who could possibly be too old for lasers, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere!), we’ll be offering the special opportunity to buy a vintage edition of our publication, Generations, which includes an article by Dr. Deborah Weiner on the life of Mendes Cohen.

And, most excitingly, we will be selling beautiful mugs with the exhibit logo and an image of the flag that Mendes Cohen made to hoist on his boat as he floated down the Nile. This is not an item you can get off Amazon.com!

Hopefully, at least one of these items will tickle your fancy or strike you as a worthy gift for someone!

Happy Travels, my friend!

Yours Truly,

Abby

Mendes-Blue-Rim-Handle-Mug-v2

abby krolikDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Farewell to the Pickle!

Posted on August 20th, 2014 by

Pickle_logo4

 

 

There once was a pickle I knowed,

Through which electricity flowed.

Though the smell was horrendous,

The applause was tremendous,

‘Cause that little pickle’s tuches glowed!

 

 

The Pickle’s stay was short but sweet. Our exhibition team has worked quickly to take down the exhibit.

The Pickle’s stay was short but sweet. Our exhibition team has worked quickly to take down the exhibit.

An interesting but probably little known fact about The Electrified Pickle is that the #1 Favorite Item in the exhibit amongst schoolage children who visited was not the nightmare-inducing permanent wave machine, but the humble ice tongs! #ThanksFrozen.

(If I had a quarter for every time a child started singing or humming “Let It Go” while in the exhibit, I’d have a dollar or two.)

(If I had a quarter for every time a child started singing or humming “Let It Go” while in the exhibit, I’d have a dollar or two.)

abby krolikA poetic blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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