Another Report from Atlanta

Posted on May 13th, 2015 by

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Along with several thousand other museum curators, educators, administrators, registrars, developers, and – of course – collections  managers, I enjoyed four days of camaraderie, discussion, ideas, and food both mediocre (sorry, official conference hotel’s catering) and excellent (thank you, Mary Mac’s Tea Room). Atlanta inaugurated a city-wide Museum Week to coincide with the conference, and many local venues and organizations sent their ‘mascots’ to the Georgia World Congress Center to welcome the attendees.

I’m not personally a fan of costumed mascots, but I couldn’t resist posing with Zhu Zhu from Zoo Atlanta.

I’m not personally a fan of costumed mascots, but I couldn’t resist posing with Zhu Zhu from Zoo Atlanta.

There are many museum conferences to attend each year, from local to national to international. Among those options, AAM positions itself as one of the ‘big ones,’ and indeed many of the session topics relate to the concerns of extremely large, influential, and well-known institutions. However, in recent years they’ve made a push to serve museums on the other end of the scale. That gives those of us with smaller staffs and budgets a chance to meet with our cohorts from across the country, discuss topics relevant to our needs, gather info about current trends, and learn useful tips on applying those trends that we can steal borrow from our fellows. There is a certain chip-on-our-shoulders attitude common to small-to-mid-size museum employees at a gathering like this one; in one session, geared toward historical societies and similarly not-exactly-the-Met museums, a presenter unwisely said: “Well, we only have 15 full-time staff.”  The audience did not feel her pain. (It was a very useful session, though.)

Conferences are a great chance to catch up with old friends, network with new ones, buy topical books at a discount, and gather as much information, contacts, and swag from the Expo Hall as you can….

The accidental theme of the only photos I took at the conference: Bears. This fine fellow was in the Expo Hall.

The accidental theme of the only photos I took at the conference: Bears. This fine fellow was in the Expo Hall.

…Oh, and attend sessions, right! The actual point of the conference! I went to lots of sessions about artifact and archival collections, of course, with themes ranging from the philosophical to the practical. In keeping with the conference’s theme, “The Social Value of Museums: Inspiring Change,” the keynote speaker, Dr. Johnetta Betsch Cole, roused the crowd with her call to action: Broadening the diversity of museums’ content, audiences, boards, and staff.  And, on the morning of Tuesday, April 28th – after a Monday evening spent watching the news as events unfolded back in Baltimore – a packed meeting room discussed the lessons learned by the Missouri History Center in the wake of Ferguson, and the ways in which museums in Baltimore and other cities can respond to and reflect on their communities’ needs.

As always, I returned from the conference with a bag full of notes, brochures, books, free pens, and far too many new ideas to implement all at once. The challenge is to maintain that enthusiastic “we can do it!” impetus in the face of the day-to-day realities of museum work.  But I’m so glad to be working in a museum like the JMM, an organization that welcomes those ideas, encourages that enthusiasm, and is ready to respond positively and proactively to the Maryland community.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE.




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Report from Atlanta

Posted on May 4th, 2015 by

I can still remember the odd feeling in 1968 watching the split screen of the events inside and outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago.  I was 16 at the time.  The events on TV were made a bit stranger since a few of my friends and relatives were in the streets that day (just 12 miles from my home) being tear-gassed and beaten while I was under my mother’s orders not to leave the house.

All those feelings from 1968 came back to me as I sat helplessly in my hotel room at the AAM museum conference in Atlanta watching parts of my adopted city burn. The conference theme was “the social value of museums inspiring change” – all I could think was “we have a lot of work ahead.”

I am writing this blog post about what was on “the other half of my screen” – the half that was doing my darndest to focus on ideas that might be useful to either adopt, adapt or avoid at JMM.

In conjunction with the conference I had a chance to visit four Atlanta museums I had not seen before and revisit the Atlanta History Center. Let me share a few personal observations about these five institutions.

  1. This was my second trip to the Atlanta History Center which is undergoing a major renovation. But their “unique” Civil War exhibit is still open to the public – if you want to know the Confederacy’s “strategy to win the war in 1865”, this is definitely the place to come. It also offered a fabulous dessert bar as part of a progressive dinner (sorry, no picture) – I lost that battle too!  But here is a photo of me with a 1929 Hudson Super Six Sedan that made me feel like I was on the set of Downton Abbey – the grounds of the History Center are among the most beautiful settings for a museum that I’ve ever seen.

    1929 Hudson Super Six Sedan

    1929 Hudson Super Six Sedan

  2. The William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum. The museum has five major spaces on the ground floor (as well as quite a large surface parking lot). Two spaces are for performance/activities:  a small theater and a much larger auditorium (The Selig Center) which appears to be a shared use space with Atlanta’s Jewish Federation.  There is a permanent Holocaust gallery – heavily photo based; a temporary exhibit gallery (about the size of ours – currently featuring a tribute to Maurice Sendak); and a core exhibit, organized as a chronological journey through major artifacts from the collection.  I found the most interesting part of this gallery was the invitation at its end for visitor’s to offer their ideas of “missing topics” … I’ll be interested in finding out what kind of response rate they are getting to this offer.

    What stories did we miss?

    What stories did we miss?

  3. The Center for Puppetry Arts is located directly across the street from the Breman Museum. My sense is that this makes a great combination for attracting both family audiences and school groups – that can easily see both museums in the same day. Puppetry Arts (an inspiration of the Henson family kids) is in the midst of a significant expansion.  For now, I was most impressed with the diversity of artifacts on display representing everything from Balinese shadow puppets to Julie Taymor’s Lion King costumes to Pigs in Space.  Label copy and curatorial work is rather homespun but it is a space with lots of potential.



  4. Georgia Aquarium has an incredible array of animals and environments. Each tank is so full of biodiversity that it seems to scream – “you will never figure out everything that’s here.” The space makes use of lots of artificial environments and even fantasy to stimulate popular interest.  It is bright, bold and perhaps a bit corporate.

    Georgia Aquarium

    Georgia Aquarium

  5. College Football Hall of Fame – Atlanta’s newest attraction – makes the Aquarium seem sedate. There is absolutely no line here between corporate sponsorship, product placement and exhibit content… even the logo has ad type in it. Your first on-screen guide in the exhibit is the cow from the Chick-fil-a ad campaign.  The flashing screens and interactives are numerous and overlapping.  The signature technology is a badge you are given that “personalizes” your visit by recognizing your favorite college team and customizing the interactives to match the colors, mascot, song etc. of your alma mater (more exciting I think for someone who went to Michigan than to Brandeis).   And perhaps the bottom line is that this is a museum for people who would normally not be caught dead in a museum – and that may be an astute assessment of the market.

    College Football Hall of Fame

    College Football Hall of Fame

Google Glass

Google Glass

Speaking of technology – a lot of what’s new in the museum world can be found on the Museum Expo floor.  It is always fun trying out the latest gadgets.  Above you see me as a newbie to Google Glass.  The demonstration was designed to show that you could add a layer of content to a piece of art or old photograph on a very cool display.  My personal impression – the best part was being able to say “look at me wearing this great piece of technology”.  The content was underwhelming and who really thinks they want to have content sitting in their field of view – between you and the historic object.  Most of us want to get closer to something authentic, not have a layer that pushes us away.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality

My assessment of this very heavy set of immersive virtual reality glasses is not much better.  The content in this case was a first person perspective of Rosa Parks on the bus – as the bus driver and then a policeman get in your face.  The glasses allow you to look at the people behind you when you are being accosted – not sure that this is an “enhancement”.  Like the Google Glass these units are also a significant problem to maintain, as (for hygiene reasons) they need to be cleaned after every use.

But I don’t want you to think I am a complete Luddite.  There were two more modest pieces of hardware/software that really got me thinking.  The first were small display cases with thin LED projection surfaces on the front.  This case would allow you to “animate” the label copy superimposed on an object in a protected case.  No special glasses required and the price of the case is very competitive with other types of protective structures.  Two companies had prototypes on display.

The most impressive technology I saw was this simple (and almost free) telepresence system:

Look at this for a moment and think of what it might mean for providing visitors access to spaces with physical barriers like the Lloyd Street Synagogue or environments with security concerns like vault space or access for global visitors.  Definitely going to begin a conversation here.  The expo provided proof, if any was needed, that the value of a gizmo is not to be found in its sleekness, complexity or price tag but rather the quality of the thought process about how it will be used.

By now you may be wondering – did you just spend your time visiting museums, touring technologies and making new contacts for JMM.  Well mostly… but I did spend some time at panels and in sessions that inspired fresh thinking about our work at JMM.  Especially useful were sessions on marketing, membership and recent psychographic studies of museum visitors’ interests.  I also attended a session entitled “Missouri Burning” about the response of the Missouri State Historical Society in St. Louis to the events in neighboring Ferguson.  If I had to describe this conference in one word – I think I would pick “timely.”

It was a week I needed some perspective and AAM gave me a full year’s supply.


Marvin PinkertA blog post by Museum Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

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Chosen Food – A Year in Review

Posted on December 21st, 2012 by

A blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

The end of the month is quickly approaching which means many things – my kids are counting down the minutes to winter break; I’m getting awfully tired of Christmas music; and everyone at the Museum is scrambling to meet end of the year deadlines. The end of December also signals one more important event – the closing of Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity. This original JMM exhibition which opened in October 2011 has proven quite popular with visitors and staff and has inspired a variety of food-related conversations, blog posts, partnerships, and programs. It has truly been a year filled with food, food, and more food!

Here in no particular order are some of the highlights of this past year’s exhibition-related activities:

Iron Chef Passover

In 2011 we launched a new program initiative supported by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education designed to attract young adults to the JMM for evening programs featuring speakers, exhibit tours, hands-on demonstrations, and workshops. We couldn’t have picked a better time to begin this program series as we themed many of our programs on the topics of food, gardening, and sustainability. Based on the popular Food Network show, we held two Iron Chef competitions (in celebration of Passover and Sukkot). Here we see a team participating in the Iron Chef Passover competition working to incorporate horseradish (the secret ingredient) into their dishes. One of the evening’s winning dishes was a surprisingly delicious horseradish ice cream.


The JMM’s own amazing Esther Weiner hosted EstherFest! a celebration of Chanukah complete with latke making, joke telling, and story sharing. This program proved so popular, we repeated it again this year. Esther’s fame has traveled wide and far and she has been featured on WYPR’s The Signal. We cannot understand why Esther does not have her own cooking show on the Food Network!

Joe Regenstein – Everything You Wanted to Know about Kosher and Halal

Chosen Food highlights the ways in which Jewish food traditions have absorbed the customs of other ethnic and religious groups as well as the extent to which Jewish food culture has impacted mainstream American culture. We continued to explore these cross cultural comparisons through many programs. One program featured Dr. Joseph Regenstein, Professor of Food Science at Cornell University and head of the Kosher and Halal Initiative, who facilitated a fascinating discussion about the similarities and differences between kosher and halal dietary regulations.

Michael Twitty/Kosher Soul

What do you get when you mix Jewish and African American culinary traditions? Kosher Soul, a program featuring culinary historian, Michael Twitty, who demonstrated how he has incorporated his adopted Jewish faith into traditional African American recipes. The results were such tasty dishes as black bean hummus, collard green pastrami soul rolls, and sesame hamantaschen. Audience members loved tasting his dishes.

Knish 101

participants sampling knishes

So many Jewish delicacies to explore in such a short period of time. Knish lover, Laura Silver, provided a fact-filled lecture about the history of knishes followed by a sampling of many of Baltimore’s best home-made and store bought versions.

Chosen Food travels to the White House

Not all of our related programs took place on-site. In April we were invited to travel to DC to participate in a Passover program at the White House. Cookbook author Joan Nathan and White House pastry chef Bill Yosses led a hands-on cooking demonstration of traditional Passover dishes while JMM staff members Karen Falk and Rachel Cylus shared holiday stories.

Food-related programming also proved popular with families. This summer, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Hendler Creamery (a Jewish-owned ice cream company that was located just across the street from the JMM on Baltimore Street), we held several ice cream making (and eating) programs.

Celebrating the connection between Jews and Chinese food and games was the theme of our 2011 annual Christmas Day program, Chanukah, Christmas, and Everything Chinese. Thanks to the assistance of Lois Madow of the American Mah – Jongg Association we were able to provide mah jongg lessons for our visitors along with crafts, games, and tasty Chinese food sampling.

Join us again this year as we continue to celebrate the Jewish/Chinese connection at Dragons and Dreidels on Tues. December 25. [More info can be found at http:/// or call Rachel Cylus at (410) 732-6400 x214]

City Springs school children visiting the exhibit

The exhibit proved popular with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Thanks to the efforts of our education staff, we developed a range of activities for visiting school groups to enhance their tours through the exhibit with art projects, scavenger hunts, and small group discussions.

Chosen Food also served as inspiration for a year-long partnership project with students from nearby Commodore Rodgers Elementary/Middle School. Students toured the exhibit and then met regularly with JMM staff to gather family recipes and create a classroom cookbook. This year’s partnership project involves the creation of a school community garden.

JMM staff members learning about Jewish agricultural practices

One of our most rewarding partnerships has been with the staff at Kayam Farms at the Pearlstone Center. In addition to facilitating several Brews and Schmooze programs (and supplying the secret ingredient at our Iron Chef Sukkot competition), JMM education staff participated in two workshops at Pearlstone Center where we learned about traditional Jewish farming practices and how to lead related activities for school groups. In this photo you see us participating in an activity designed to teach children about the importance of poly-culture agriculture as opposed to mono-culture. Our group split into two teams, one representing pests and the other crops. As you can see, Elena and I had a great time pretending to be pests!

lining up for gefilte fish corn dogs at GefilteFest

Our culminating event took place this past October as we celebrated perhaps the most Jewish of Jewish foods at GefilteFest. Activities included fish themed activities, specialty tours of the exhibit, snacks, and a gefilte fish making competition featuring Liz Alpern of Gefilteria in Brooklyn; Dave Whaley, first cook at the Four Seasons; and the JMM’s own Susan Press. Believe it or not but top honors went to Chef Whaley’s deep fried gefilte fish corn dog!

Amazingly, this list is not at all comprehensive and only covers a sampling of what we offered this year. Other programs explored borscht making, pie making, bee keeping, canning demonstrations, and more.

If you still have not made it down to visit Chosen Food, do not despair. You still have time…but not much. The exhibit’s last day is Sunday, December 30. It then travels to Atlanta where it will be on view at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.

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