Mapping Constellations

Posted on May 31st, 2019 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

One of the many things at which Marvin excels is finding connections others might miss. You might say that he sees constellations where others see a jumble of stars. With a confession that I am not as skilled at constellation-spotting as he, I thought I’d share some connections I noticed while I was in New Orleans for the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums.

On my first day in the city, I visited the Cabildo and the Presbytère, two neighboring Louisiana State Museums on Jackson Square. Even as I walked those halls–more than 1100 miles from Lloyd Street–still I has one foot in the JMM.

In the Cabildo’s exhibit Mapping the Crescent, featuring maps of New Orleans displayed chronologically, I envisioned the opening of our Voices of Lombard Street and wondered what kind of story we might tell with a chronological display of maps of Baltimore.

In We Love You New Orleans, I realized, again, that I have truly become a museum professional, as I gawked at the beautiful costumes and, remembering our own Fashion Statement currently in the Feldman Gallery, wondered if the lights were too high for their well-being.

At the Presbytère, as I explored the darkened warren that is Living with Hurricanes: Katrina & Beyond, I was moved by the recollections and the material culture left behind (and devastated by) a natural disaster I remember happening. But I was truly arrested by the case containing Jewish religious objects, including a tallit, shofar, electric menorah and Torah cover. (The Torah scroll itself was rendered pasul (unfit for ritual use) by the 8 feet of water the synagogue endured, and it was buried according to custom.)

Perhaps most surprising in the New Orleans museums, though, was this illustration of an astrologer costume, designed for a Mardi Gras krewe in 1932. As we prep for our future presentation of Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit (coming in May 2020), the stereotypically Jewish features of this stargazer were a bright line in my mind constellation connecting the crescent city and charm city.

In the conference sessions themselves, the connections were perhaps less surprising:

In one of the keynote addresses, the speaker noted that 97% of Americans believe museums are educational assets for their communities, which made me think of our upcoming Jonestown festival and the way so many museums are coming together to be assets to our community.

In a session that promised 75 ideas about membership and fundraising in 60 minutes, not only did I get a lot of great ideas and reminders to bring home with me, I shared with the room about our recent campaign to bring you members in to the Museum (yes, you!) by offering you a free gift, but only when you actually came into the building.

In a session about culturally-specific museums, I learned about the International African American Museum, soon to be open in Charleston, SC. Chief curator Joy Bivens shared that the IAAM is envisioning a Center for Family History, where visitors will be able to do genealogical research using guidance from the Museum and their collections. I heard an echo of some of our own current and aspirational services to the community.

In a panel about the importance of branding, the conversation led me to jot down some notes about what it is that we do: We use Jewish stories to nurture empathy, champion human dignity, and inspire action in Maryland and beyond.

There were more, but I think I’ll leave it here: Nurturing empathy, championing human dignity, and inspiring action. That’s a constellation I can really get behind.

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Posted on October 30th, 2017 by

A blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Last Thursday, I got up early, hopped on my chariot, and headed to Pittsburgh for the Annual Conference for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (aka MAAM).   The mission of MAAM is to support and promote excellence, ethics, and accessibility in museum practices; and to make the museums of the Mid-Atlantic region better able to preserve and interpret our diverse cultural, scientific, and aesthetic heritage. I was invited to Pittsburgh as I was recently nominated to serve as a Member at Large on the Board of MAAM to represent the State of Maryland.

The  teeniest of planes!

The teeniest of planes!

The three day conference was jam packed filled with sessions, museum visits, board meetings and just meeting a lot of very nice like-minded museum professionals. On Thursday, we visited the Rivers of Steel National Heritage where we learned about the Carrie Furnaces No. 6 and 7, which are rare examples of pre-World War II iron-making technology. Built in 1907, the furnaces produced iron for the Homestead Works from 1907 to 1978. Since the collapse of the region’s steel industry in the 1970s and 1980s, these are the only non-operative blast furnaces in the Pittsburgh District to remain standing.

The Carrie Furnaces

The Carrie Furnaces

We visited the Frick Pittsburgh where we were treated to a preview of a very fun exhibition on loan from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Undressed -The History of Underwear in Fashion. The exhibition illustrates how undergarments reflect society’s changing ideas about the body, morality, and sex, and the intimate relationship between underwear and fashion. Thursday evening we were treated to a reception at the Phipps Conservatory and saw the beautiful glass sculpture and art of Jason Gamrath.

Day Two of the conference was spent in sessions – I was attracted to attending sessions on education and was also treated to the keynote address from Ruth Abram, co-founder of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and who has also worked on other projects like the Sites of Conscience and Behold, New Lebanon!  On Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit the Heinz History Center and saw the set of Mister Rogers Neighborhood and also celebrated the 100th birthday of Charlie the Tuna!

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Happy Birthday Charlie!

One of things that impressed me most about the MAAM organization is its desire to foster and mentor emerging professionals in the museum field. One of the best moments that I had of the weekend was seeing former JMM intern, Emma Glaser.  Emma interned with the JMM over the summer of 2014 and was instrumental in helping us plan education activities in connection with the Mendes Cohen exhibition. Following Emma’s internship, she contacted me about providing her a letter of recommendation, she wanted to apply to graduate school for museum studies. I was absolutely thrilled to see Emma at the conference and see how learn how happy she is studying in  the Graduate Program for Museum Studies in Cooperstown, New York in her chosen field of study!


Hi Emma!

Hi Emma!



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Networking with the Nation

Posted on May 19th, 2017 by

Blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Last week, Collections Manager, Joanna Church and I attended the conference of the American Alliance of Museums in St. Louis.  We were two out of more than 4,000 museum professionals gathered there to discuss changing fiscal and social contexts, the most recent technological developments and yes, some general kibbitzing about people and exhibits creating a buzz.

Projections on the ceiling of Union Station in St Louis.

Projections on the ceiling of Union Station in St Louis.

Wearing my hat as a liaison between the museum world and our JMM members, I thought I might use this newsletter to share a few highlights of the conference and how they might impact our future.

The theme of the event was “Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion”.  The first featured speaker was Haben Girma, an Eritrean refugee who is also the first blind/deaf graduate of Harvard Law School.  Haben would have been an impressive orator in any forum… she had a wicked sense of humor and used it effectively to press the case for greater attention to access needs.  Her very presence spoke volumes as to how small acts of consideration can make big differences in enabling everyone to participate and contribute.

But the inclusion story was not only about accommodating disabilities, there were several sessions that dealt with demographic diversity.  On the opening day of the conference I represented the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) on a panel entitled “Transcending Boundaries: The New ‘Identity Museums'”.  I was joined by moderator, Marsha Semmel (former Deputy Director of IMLS), Lisa Sasaki (Director of the Asian-Pacific American Center) and Antonio Rodriguez (Chair, AAM’s Latino Network).  We talked about the challenges of simultaneously meeting the needs of constituent and cross-over audiences, the ways that on-line and mobile devices are reshaping our delivery of content, and opportunities for collaboration with non-“identity museums.”  The recent CAJM meeting in Boston and JMM’s own work on our new core exhibit helped inform my presentation.

The conference was also our first opportunity to pitch our upcoming exhibit Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling to an assembly of traveling exhibit coordinators from both history and science museums.  Our exhibit – which includes a slice of technology, a shmear of history and a topping of environmental science – received a very positive reception.

A curiosity from the expo floor - this is a cut-out combined with a projection, but it felt like a hologram.

A curiosity from the expo floor – this is a cut-out combined with a projection, but it felt like a hologram.

Our main purpose at the conference though, is not to present, but to learn from others.  Joanna, for example, not only sat in on sessions about the nuts and bolts of collections registration and storage, but also attended programs that took a broader look at collecting strategies, audience engagement, and exhibit design within the framework of the theme of diversity and inclusion. Several speakers tackled issues of collecting and exhibiting traumatic history, recent events, and “risky” topics, issues we all wrestle with.  She quoted one speaker whose advice was “steal and adapt”: that is, when faced with a problem, we can look to our fellow museums for guidance, since it’s likely one of them has already encountered the same problem.  Joanna pointed out that diversity of types of museums in attendance at AAM is one of this conference’s great strengths, and it reminds herthat we don’t have to go it alone.

The math of music from "Math Alive" at the St. Louis Science Center.

The math of music from “Math Alive” at the St. Louis Science Center.

Speaking of museum diversity, it was on full display both in the projects highlighted in the sessions and in the venues for the evening events.  AAM’s award for excellence went to “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum in Philadelphia.  It is a bold concept, dramatically designed – can’t wait to see it.  In St. Louis itself, the stand-out project for me was “#1 in Civil Rights” at the Missouri History Museum – featuring the ACTivist in Action program, a unique fusion of theater and exhibit in one seamless experience.  A close runner-up for innovation was the “Math Alive” traveling exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center (I missed it during its premiere at the Smithsonian in 2012 – it appears to be holding up well for a five year old exhibit).  And perhaps the most impressive venue for the conference was the Missouri Botanic Garden, not just in terms of scale and beauty, but in the cleverness of its design.

From the venues to the sessions to the expo floor, we packed our bags full of new ideas to bring back to JMM.

The Japanese Garden at the  Missouri Botanic Garden

The Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

The Mediterranean Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

The Mediterranean Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

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