Gaining Perspective from 1,000 Miles Away

Posted on October 1st, 2014 by

St. Paul

A beautiful shot of the St. Paul Skyline!

A week before Rosh Hashonah, Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon and I attended the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) conference in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The trip had many virtues – a chance to see some truly innovative museums, a chance to renew and develop acquaintances with colleagues and collaborators, and perhaps, most important, a chance to think about the directions we are taking at JMM through the lens of innovations happening elsewhere in the country.


What a great conference poster – does anyone know the artist?

The tone for the conference was set by keynoter, Garrison Keillor.  He peppered his folksy (and irreverent) stories of the history of the state with observations about the museum enterprise.  Paraphrasing Tip O’Neill, he observed that “all history is local” and that those who try to sweep human experience into great global generalizations are probably sharing as much fiction as truth.  “The 60s may have been about drug, sex, and rock ‘n roll in parts of New York or San Francisco”, he noted, “but in small town Minnesota the 60s was all about moving into the middle class.”  I reflected on our Mendes Cohen exhibit at JMM and thought, actually “all history is biography” and every human life has the potential to illuminate its times.

Feature exhibit at the Minnesota History Center:  Toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Feature exhibit at the Minnesota History Center:
Toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

I attended 7 workshops and presentations during my two and a half days in St. Paul.  These included:

“Creating Connections:  Integrating STEM Learning into History Exhibitions and Programs” – a collaboration of the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Conner Prairie historic village outside Indianapolis.  Conner Prairie recently took a big leap outside its comfort zone, training its history docents to facilitate visitor-driven exploration of historic technologies.  We worked in groups to develop model exhibits.  Ilene’s group was turning architecture into an engineering lesson.  My group worked on letting visitors “put together” a 1910 electric car.

Workshop at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Workshop at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Directors Breakfast – turned out to be a perfect complement to the session above.  The focus of the breakfast was “how do we build a political coalition strong enough to promote history in the way that scientists promote STEM?”  They had some interesting ideas and I expect that I will participate in future forums on this topic.

My favorite artifact - We definitely need something like this in our collection.

My favorite artifact – We definitely need something like this in our collection.

“Blurred Lines:  Museum as Community Center” – This session looked at four specific program innovations at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle (outdoor film festival, evening socials for young adults, yoga in the museum and after school tech clubs).  They talked about successes and failures, but even more interesting, the process of assessing successes and failures.  I think that as we increase our community outreach there is much to be learned from the experience of others.

“Seeing the Forest: A National Perspective on History Organizations” – this was a straightforward (and slightly depressing) set of research results from NEA and AASLH.  It told a story that was not terribly surprising – after holding their own through the first electronic revolution (the Internet of the 1990s and early 2000s), museums were now experiencing a significant decline in attendance during the period 2005 to 2013 (the era of the smart phone and social media) – actually all physical contact with the arts – attending concerts, art galleries, dance performances as well as participating in creative arts activities are declining.  The only uptick in “arts” creation was a boom in photography (perhaps those smart phones).  Of course, these are averages – and any individual institution can figure out a way to buck the trend.

Paul, Babe, me and Mendes at Minnesota History Center. One way to get people to recognize the front of the museum!

Paul, Babe, me and Mendes at Minnesota History Center. One way to get people to recognize the front of the museum!

“Blink” – Local Baltimore/DC consulting group QM2 was invited by the Massachusetts historic properties trust to perform an activity inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.  They were given 36 hours at each of three historic sites to assess and suggest new directions for reawakening public interest and growing attendance.  The idea was to not get bogged down in all the impediments of “we’ve tried that before” or “management won’t let us do that” and make constructive snap judgments.  It seemed like an interesting experiment.

“Talking about Religion in History Museums” – Three speakers looked at the challenges that the topic of religion generates, not only in public museums, but even in religious-sponsored institutions.  There was discussion of why most museums are willing to host exhibits on religious practice but few are willing to have any discussion of religious belief.  Even small differences of opinion on belief can easily escalate into institution-threatening conflict.   The panelists had some great examples.

“Support Young Children, Grow Future Audiences” – our own Ilene was joined by speakers from the Smithsonian’s Center on Early Learning, a museum in San Antonio and the still-to-be-built National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall.  The topic was how history museums could relate to our youngest visitors (ages 3 to 7).  Call me prejudiced, but I thought Ilene’s presentation was outstanding and really reminded me that we can hold our own even with much larger institutions when it comes to educational innovation.

Mill City Museum: The ruins of a flour mill destroyed by fire are transformed into a first-rate history experience.

Mill City Museum: The ruins of a flour mill destroyed by fire are transformed into a first-rate history experience.

Living History Actress plays 1940s "Anne Pillsbury" at Mill City Museum

Living History Actress plays 1940s “Anne Pillsbury” at Mill City Museum

Lest you think I spent all my time in sessions, some of the highlights of the trip are documented in the photos below.  I had the chance to explore the beautiful Minnesota State Capitol building, the first major project of architect Cass Gilbert, now under restoration.  I went back to the Minnesota History Center, on everyone’s short list of the best history museums in the US and also had the chance to visit their newest project, the Mill City Museum.  In 1991 an abandoned flour mill, once the largest in the world, was nearly destroyed by fire.  Instead of tearing the building down the folks at MNHS turned into an extension site and, in my opinion, perhaps the finest single topic museums ever.  Combining clever exhibit design (an elevator ride that seems to owe a lot to MSI’s Coal Mine and Disney’s Tower of Terror), extensive research, live performance, great use of artifacts and the ruins of the building and some great exhibit filmmaking – I would rate this as a “must see”, even if you never thought you had an interest in making flour.

Detail from the ceiling of the Minnesota State Assembly - it was breathtaking.

Detail from the ceiling of the Minnesota State Assembly – it was breathtaking.

And of course I brought my trusty Flat Mendes with me!

And of course I brought my trusty Flat Mendes with me!

If I had to describe the conference in one word, it would be: “inspiring”.  I am glad I could take you along for a little bit of the ride.

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE. Interested in knowing more about AASLH? Check out their website, or follow them on Twitter!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Once Upon a Time…04.05.2013

Posted on August 13th, 2013 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Jobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or


Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times:  April 5, 2013

PastPerfect Accession #:  1995.013.015

Status:  Unidentified – do you know these attendees at a regional seaboard Zionist convention in Virginia? Left to Right:  1. unidentified 2. unidentified 3. unidentified 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Greetings from Minnesota!

Posted on May 11th, 2012 by



A blog post by Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink.

Last week I went to Minneapolis, MN for the AAM Annual Meeting.  This 4-day conference is a gathering of museum professionals from museums of every size and type. Ideas are exchanges, best practices are explained and innovative approaches to keeping museums relevant to audiences are bandied about!

My first order of business was attending the Professional Networks Program Chair Meeting. That’s right! We’re planning for year’s conference in Baltimore. As the Registrar’s Committee representative,I want to be sure that there are sessions focused on collections. Fortunately, luncheons were a great place to talk about ideas, and learn what people liked (or didn’t like!) at the sessions they attended this year.

I enjoyed the many sessions I attended at the conference: Collections Conundrums; Keeping Safe: Discovering and Handling Hidden Collection Hazards; Out from Behind-the-Scenes: Bringing Our Work Forward; Copyrights, Wrongs and the Creative Commons: Current Practices; Out of the Vaults and onto the Web: Models for Collections Access; and Free vs. Fee: How Admission Ticketing Impacts Membership and Annual Giving. I am excited to share all of the information that I learned, since so much is applicable to the JMM.

Minnesota History Museum opened their in-progress exhibition and allowed the museum community to leave their comments on post-it notes. The suggestions may be incorporated into the final layout.

Fortunately, AAM staff knows that when museum professionals get together, they really want to do is see each other’s museums. On-site insights (small tours with a specific curatorial or educational focus) and evening events are a perfect way to see behind-the-scenes.  The Asian art collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Art is quite impressive.

The Minnesota History Center sponsored Beer, Burlesque, and Babe (the Blue Ox). I don’t know which I enjoyed most—Summit Porter beer, the fashion show based on their Musingwear underwear collection, or hanging out with former colleague Lauren Silberman (and our new friend, Paul Bunyan!)

Claes Oldenberg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry are the highlight of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.  It was lovely to walk through the gardens at twilight!

The hit exhibit at the Walker Art Center is Absentee Landlord by the Baltimore filmmaker John Waters,  but the rest of the museum collection is not to be missed either!

I came all the way to Minneapolis to see John Waters?

Not to worry, I did visit Minneapolis icon Mary Tyler Moore on my way to the airport!



Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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