Posted on April 20th, 2016 by Rachel
Planning for a new JMM core exhibition took a big step forward yesterday with the convening of a planning charrette. (Charrette, the French word for “cart”, refers to an intensive planning session that involves group brainstorming around a set of questions or problems – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charrette ).
Participants included members of the JMM board and lay leaders who are members of our Program Committee as well as museum professionals and consultants, drawn from the fields of exhibition design and audience engagement. Over the course of three hours, group members shared memorable museum exhibition experiences and discussed strategies for creating meaningful core exhibit experiences.
The bulk of the time was spent in small group discussions where participants addressed a series of questions relating to “balance” and “tools”. Conversation on such topics as how one exhibit can meet the needs of diverse audiences (Maryland natives vs. tourists / Jewish vs. non-Jewish / students in groups vs. adults vs. families) and how to integrate the voices of visitors into the exhibition’s design dominated the first breakout session. The second session focused on more concrete tools for conveying content such as how to make effective use of archives and objects and how can we incorporate appropriate technology to enhance exhibit content.
Members from each group faithfully recorded observations and comments on flip chart sheets.
that were then posted on the walls of the room for everyone in the entire group to view. Participants were encouraged to use stickers to note the comments that they felt were most important including statements such as “Don’t forget the importance of Wow!” “Make sure that the exhibit is flexible and can be changed to keep people coming back”, “Resist the urge to show everything”, “The best exhibits are experiences and invite exploration and journeys”.
Museum staff came away feeling energized by all the wonderful ideas and insights (and perhaps also slightly daunted by the challenges we still face in creating an innovative core exhibition that captures the full scope of Maryland Jewish history in a dynamic fashion). The exhibition is slated to open in 2019 so obviously, we are still just in the preliminary stages. Stay tuned for more!
A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.
Posted on April 8th, 2016 by Rachel
Creating a welcoming museum environment that takes into account visitor needs is an important ongoing goal at the JMM. Whether this means developing exhibition educational resources for school group visitors or offering programs designed to facilitate conversation among visitors of different religious or cultural backgrounds, we take pride in our ability to serve diverse audiences. Providing access for visitors with physical disabilities has always been a Museum priority and in recent months, our staff has taken steps to improve our services in this area.
Recognizing the need to consider the entire spectrum of accessibility issues, this past October, we hired Ingrid Kanics of Kanics Inclusive Design Services to conduct an accessibility audit of the JMM’s public spaces including both of our historic synagogues, galleries, restrooms and library. As part of her survey, she measured door openings, made use of a wheelchair to navigate spaces and considered all aspects of the visitor experience.
Ingrid then drafted a report with recommendations that she shared with Museum staff. We were pleased to note that our Museum facility scored high in many areas. Having recently added a push button option to open our front doors provides easier access for visitors with limited mobility. Many of Ingrid’s recommendations related to signage and our staff has already produced larger signs to help visitors identify public restrooms. At her suggestion, we have created a checklist of items for our visitor services staff to check on a regular basis to ensure, for example, that the mechanical doors are functioning properly and that doors and hallways are kept clear of debris that can pose tripping hazards. Other improvements, based on Ingrid’s recommendations, are slated soon for implementation and include adding covers to drain pipes underneath restroom sinks to avoid burn risks for individuals in wheelchairs and smoothing out the transition strips between the lobby and coat room/restroom area to make for easier navigation for wheelchair users.
Thanks to the contributions of docent, Robyn Hughes, for several years, the JMM has worked to improve our services for visitors who are blind or visually impaired. Robyn helps us create Braille text for flyers, exhibition text and programs (we have both Braille and large print exhibition text for Beyond Chicken Soup available at our front desk) as well as create tours and programs designed specifically for visitors with visual impairments including camp groups from the Maryland School for the Blind who regularly visit.
Large Print Brochure
A priority for this coming year is to improve services for visitors who are deaf or have hearing impairments. While we currently make sure that all exhibit videos are captioned and hire sign language interpreters upon request, we do not currently have the ability to offer accommodations for visitors at public programs who have difficulty hearing speakers or presentations. Our staff recently met with representatives from a company that manufacturers assisted listening devices and learned about how this system can improve sound in our orientation space for program participants. We intend on purchasing a system in the upcoming year that would enable visitors to borrow a receiver from the front desk with an over the ear headphone that would amplify sound in our lobby. The same system could also be used by visitors participating in guided tours of our historic synagogues.
The biggest challenge we face for visitors with physical disabilities is the lack of an easy solution for gaining access to our historic synagogues. Many years ago we created a video tour of the synagogues that is available for visitors to view in our lobby as a programmatic equivalent for those unable to climb the buildings’ stairs. We have also started to video simulcast programs that take place in the Lloyd Street Synagogue for visitors to watch in our orientation space. Of course, we recognize that these steps are not enough, and we are exploring different ways for creating access through ramps and possibly an elevator. B’nai Israel is in the process of adding a chair lift to aid congregants (and Museum visitors) in gaining access to its main sanctuary. And we remain committed to continuing to investigate potential solutions for improving accessibility to the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
Posted on March 25th, 2016 by Rachel
This year’s Council of American Jewish Museum’s (CAJM) annual conference took place in NY from March 20-22 and focused on the topic of “Next Narratives”. Conversation flowed surrounding the topic of storytelling with many thought provoking sessions devoted to exploring how Jewish museums can develop new more inclusive narratives through exhibitions, programs and outreach initiatives.
2016 CAJM Conference
The conference lineup was impressive and featured artists, scholars, museum professionals and philanthropists. The opening plenary highlighted novel storytelling methods with presentations by Annie Polland of the Tenement Museum, author Bruce Feiler and artist and filmmaker, Tiffany Shlain. I was reminded again about just what a brilliant job the Tenement Museum does in telling stories about the immigrants who inhabited 97 Orchard Street and loved Annie’s endorsement of “messy storytelling” by training guides to learn how to give unscripted tours that incorporate participants’ stories. You can find out more about the Tenement Museum’s tours and programs at tenement.org.
Another thought provoking session, “The Ten-Foot Pole of Jewish Museums: Where is the Religious Narrative?” raised a rather provocative issue – are Jewish museums afraid to wrestle with religious content in meaningful ways? One of the panelists, Melanie Holcomb from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shared how a beautiful musical installation that her staff created at the Cloisters enhanced visitor engagement with religious art. The discussion among participants following the panelists was particularly insightful.
Audience engagement through non-traditional means was emphasized in the final panel of the conference, “Audacious Space: Rethinking Gallery Engagement”.
Colleagues from The Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco), The Jewish Museum (NY), the National Museum of American Jewish History (Philadelphia) and Museum Hack highlighted work that they have done to bring in new audiences through such means as providing contemporary artists opportunities to create installations based on their interpretation of collections and exhibitions (often displayed in unusual spaces). The Contemporary Jewish Museum has developed a popular series of 20-minute gallery chats that provide visitors with the chance to hear from a diverse group of speakers who have some connection to exhibition content. (Check out current offerings developed for the Bill Graham exhibit.)
Museum Hack, a tour company that is not affiliated with a museum, has a reputation for leading highly entertaining tours that are popular with millennials. This presentation was especially fun and audience members enjoyed participating in an activity creating stories of individuals portrayed in famous art portraits. For more about the irreverent approach that Museum Hack takes to developing its interactive tours with the tagline “This Isn’t Your Grandma’s Museum Tour” check out museumhack.com.
In addition to the valuable content gleaned from sessions, the CAJM conference also offers plenty of opportunities for networking with colleagues from across the country as well as from Canada, Europe and Israel. Taking advantage of the many amazing cultural venues in New York, attendees had the chance to view multiple exhibits, including Beit Hatfutsots’ exhibit Here Comes the Bride: [pdf] at Temple Emanue-el.
At the Jewish Museum we viewed an incredible exhibit displaying gowns, sketches and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi.
Center for Jewish History
A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.