Posted on January 19th, 2017 by Rachel
“Professional development takes many forms,” says JMM director, Marvin Pinkert, “whether or not ‘Museum Hack’ represents a path we might follow, in the future it is without doubt a ‘best practice’ in the field of museum tours. I was delighted that the whole professional team had the opportunity to experience it.”
The Museum Hack logo
Tracie: When I saw Nick Gray, the CEO of Museum Hack, give the keynote address at the Mid Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM) in the Fall of 2016, I was intrigued. I had heard of the company before, but this was my first in-depth view of what this irreverent organization (their motto is “Museums are F***ing Awesome”) actually does. Gray’s address at MAAM was full of passion for museums and art. He was funny and crass and smart. He reported meteoric growth of his crazy idea (from hobby tours for his friends 5 years ago to a multi-million-dollar business today). The ballroom was full of museum professionals on the edge of their seats.
The Museum Hack motto takes no prisoners and its bright colors are pretty indicative of the exciting and invigorating experience JMMers were about to have.
His presentation wasn’t perfect. At a meeting whose theme was about the importance of inclusiveness and accessibility, the $90 – $150 per person price tag of Museum Hack tours definitely gave folks pause. Gray was only able to say something like “we’re working on it” to the conference attendee who asked him about how very white and mostly male his staff seemed to be. Still, it was clear to me that this kooky guy was on to something. When I got back to Baltimore I told my colleagues about it. We decided that we wanted to learn more. I suggested that we take the whole staff to a Hack Tour of the National Gallery—the closest Museum Hack location. Last week, we finally made it happen.
JMMers are ready and rarin’ to go on our Museum Hack adventure!
The Museum Hack tour was like and not-like any museum tour I’ve ever been on. From the get-go, our tour guide told us that art history, composition, symbolism and all that are really interesting, but that if that’s what we wanted, we should buy a book, because that’s not what she was going to talk about. From there we did a group, hands-in cheer of “Mu-seum!” (down on the mu up on the seum) and then took off from there to the crown jewel of the collection. We spent a little time talking about the subject of the painting, and then got a lot of history about how the National Gallery acquired it.
Hannah is positively gleeful as she relates the melancholy tale of Ginevra de’Benci.
The focus of our conversation about the rare Da Vinci painting of Ginevra de’Benci was the intrigue that surrounded it—from the “platonic” love affair that was broken off by Ginevra’s marriage to the James-Bond-esque suitcase in which it was transported to the museum (not unlike one that, as I type, is returning the Friedenwald volumes to the National Library of Israel!). We were invited to play mental and creative games with the artwork we encountered and with each other. In short, it was really fun.
In the few days since our National Gallery Hack, JMM staff have been having an ongoing conversation in various areas around Lloyd Street: “what if we had visitors…” and “we could invite people to…” I don’t know what the Museum Hack inspired, irreverent version of the JMM tour will look like. In fact, it may never happen. But even if there isn’t a direct product we can point to as a result of our shared experience, it has us all thinking about the Museum, our collections and our buildings in different ways.
Devan: As an artist and educator, I enjoyed the Museum Hack tour because it provided an opportunity to explore the works within the gallery while giving more backstory and historical information. In addition, I would imagine that interactive tours like those would be beneficial for young people who are visiting cultural institutions like the National Gallery of Art as well as others around the country. Not only would it spark more interest but assist with retention of the information so there’s at least one conscious or subconscious takeaway from the visit for them.
One of Devan’s favorite pieces of the day turned out to be Tracie’s selection for her museum pose!
Karen: I’ve already retold some of the stories we heard from our tour guide, Hannah, on Friday. The long, sad story of Ginevra de’Benci had too much detail for me to remember, but I got some great mileage out of how Paul Mellon, art collector extraordinaire, was taken in by Han van Meegeren’s Vermeer forgeries. Hannah kept us interested, and moving for two hours and the time flew, although I have to say I was very grateful when she took a break—and broke the rules—and handed out chocolate.
Shoes were in the way so off they come as Karen participates in one of the more kinetic activities of the day!
Some deductions about Museum Hack’s “rules” for tours that engage: 1. Use naughty words: every comedian since Lenny Bruce (at least) knows it thrills the audience; 2. Tell naughty stories (ditto); 3. Follow the money: isn’t this part of art’s allure? 4. Talk fast and walk fast; 5. Break the rules (see above: we must never, NEVER eat in the museum); 6. Have a through line—a story or activity that can thread throughout the entire tour; 7. Foster a little friendly competition, but not so much that your group can’t bond. Bottom line: I had a lot of fun!
The Repentant Magdalen
Deborah: As a mother who has watched the Disney film The Little Mermaid far too many times to count, I was particularly taken with the story that our amazing tour guide Hannah shared in front of the George De La Tour painting of Mary Magdalene (The Repentant Magdalen). Aside from the fact that the painting is stunning, Hannah connected the painting to a major plot point in the Dan Brown books surrounding a conspiracy to keep secret the fact that Mary Magdalene and Jesus had a child together. She then asked us to think about how this painting might be related to The Little Mermaid.
A conspiracy in action or just a good piece of art theory in practice?
We were stumped until Hannah pulled out her trusty iPad and pulled up the scene from the movie where Ariel is singing “Part of Your World” about her longing to be human in a cave where she’s stashed all of her human treasures. Lo and behold, one of the things in her cave is a painting of Mary Magdalene from the same series that we were looking at! (Specifically, the painting Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.) This detail (along with the fact that both De La Tour’s Mary and Ariel have red hair) has led to an abundance of conspiracy theories involving Disney.
Deborah also won the “find a new lover for Ginevra de’Benci” contest, with her entry of Mary Magadelene, theorizing that these two put-upon women could find support and affectionate understanding with each other.
Marvin: I was impressed with the way that our guide engaged the audience. One exercise involved finding potential companions for the unhappy young subject of DaVinci’s painting Ginevra de’Benci and capturing their images on our cell phones. Another involved creating a tableau vivant of Copley’s painting of a shark. While an art museum is very different than a history museum (the Lloyd Street ark doesn’t really lend itself to a tableau), the thought process about how to put the visitor into the action is something that I hope will animate our future thinking about tour experiences.
Presenting selections for Ginevra’s new match.
Graham: While I have been to the National Gallery of Art many times, I have mostly explored the galleries on my own, so I was excited to go on Museum Hack’s tour. I enjoyed hearing some of the backstories about how the art was acquired and shipped to the NGA. I also liked learning about a forged Vermeer painting, international intrigues and exploring hidden corners of the Museum. I found the tour to be very high energy and interactive. It was fun re-enacting John Copley’s painting Watson and the Shark and posing in front of sculptures. It was also entertaining playing games like imagining romances between figures in artwork.
Joanna and Trillion present their best ballet legs in the Degas gallery.
I liked how our guide incorporated technology into her tour, such as with her iPad and our smart phones. I appreciated receiving chocolate halfway through the day as a way to help alleviate “museum fatigue.” I believe that these kinds of tours are a great way to reengage millennials at museums. I look forward to working with our team to see how we may be able to incorporate some of these elements into our tours of Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues.
Joanna: The Museum Hack tour was a lot of fun, and not only because it’s always better to be in an art museum on a Friday. I’m not usually a tour-taker, but Hannah’s style – presumably typical of the Museum Hack guides in general – was informative, funny, brisk, and colloquial, making for both an entertaining morning (any morning that involves a tableau vivant is likely to be a good one) and a nice validation of my own style of tour-giving, which if not brisk is definitely colloquial.
JMM does its best Watson and the Shark – what do you think, did we pull it off?
That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but used in combination with more traditional formats, I think this type of tour can bring in new audiences, and give us a way to tell other, less academic or “main theme” stories about artifacts, art, and documents. But please, no tableaux vivant in the JMM galleries without making sure there’s plenty of floor space!
Trillion: Working in public programs I was especially excited to attend the Museum Hack tour last week at the National Gallery of Art. I was hoping to find inspiration for future programs and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the things I found most enjoyable was the different ways in which we were encouraged to engage with the collection. Knowing a little about Museum Hack I anticipated posing beside art and recreating famous paintings as a team (technically referred to as tableau vivant) but what I found really interesting was our search for a suitor for Ginevra de’ Benci. It was a wonderful way of ensuring that we continued to explore and engage with the many pieces not featured ono our tour. As we shared our selections at the end of the day it was interesting to see artworks that hadn’t previously caught my eye.
Here’s Trillion’s selection for a new partner for Ginevra de’ Benci painted by Jean Siméon Chardin.
Rachel: I’ve been to the National Gallery many times before – it’s one of my favorite places in DC to grab a few moments of calm and delight (I particularly love the many fountains and their related, ever-changing plant accessories – this time there were tiny potted orange trees with actual oranges on them!). I’ve even been lucky enough to get a specialized tour from Art Services Manager Daniel Shay (his daughter, Ginevra Shay, now the artistic director at The Contemporary, was once my winter intern in the photography collection!). But it is always fun to get a new perspective on a familiar favorite – and Museum Hack did not disappoint.
Hannah and The Alba Madonna.
Being a “behind-the-scenes” type museum person, I especially enjoyed Hannah’s tales related to The Alba Madonna, including the Soviet sale of Hermitage paintings – and Russia’s desire to “borrow” the painting back at the end of the century. (If you meet Hannah, ask her about Titian’s Venus with a Mirror and its Russian reception!) Overall I loved the blend of facts about the pieces of art themselves with the stories of their journeys to the National Gallery.
Collections Manager Joanna blanches at the description of transferring The Alba Madonna from its original wooden backing to the canvas it lives on today – it was quite a piece of mad, experimental conservation science!
Based on our post-tour lunch conversations and the many murmurings around the office, I think we can declare our Museum Hack experience a success!
Posted on December 23rd, 2016 by Rachel
This is the time of year for reflection, for compiling top ten best and worst lists, for noting what we did (and did not accomplish) and how we can do better in the year ahead. In keeping with the spirit of the season, what follows is a list of some of my favorite JMM moments from 2016.
1. Paul Simon: Words and Music exhibit brings in record crowds – By the time we closed the exhibit, on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, more than 5,000 visitors came through our doors over the course of three months. But even more gratifying than the numbers was how the exhibit enabled us to raise our institutional profile and attract new visitors, thanks, in part, to widespread media coverage.
The exhibit provided us with an opportunity to hold several musical performances in the Lloyd Street Synagogue, such as our concluding program by Baltimorean Sonia Rutstein, which proved popular.
2. Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America opens – After more than three years of development, we opened a major, original exhibition that explores the influence of science and culture on one another and how medicine has impacted Jewish identity. The exhibit opened to many accolades from both press and the public and we continue to receive wonderful feedback from visitors.
Opening Beyond Chicken Soup
The exhibit marked another important milestone as we successfully raised more funds than ever before for an exhibit and many of our sponsors came from within the medical community. And if you haven’t had a chance to see it, don’t worry, the exhibit remains on view through January 16. (But don’t put this off too long!)
3. Our newest living history character, Henrietta Szold, debuted in September– With a fabulous performance by actor Natalie Smith, the newest member of our Immigrant’s Trunk living history roster, focuses on Szold’s contributions to Zionism and to improving access to quality healthcare in Palestine.
Henrietta in action
To date, the character has performed at the JMM, at schools and synagogues.
4. Our annual Summer Teachers Institute successfully engaged more than 40 educators from public, private and parochial schools from across the state – This three-day workshop featured scholars, artists, survivors and a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Teachers enjoyed participating in an interactive session exploring artistic responses to oppression facilitated by Gail Prensky and Sarah Baumgarten.
Comments such as: “How do I adequately put into words all that was imparted during this experience? I was completely blown away with the amount of information conveyed throughout the various presentations and, on a logistical level, I was impressed by the professionalism and organization of the entire workshop. The materials and resources were such a valuable blessing and I walked away having learned so much and excited to be able to take it back into the classroom and school environment.“ reflect the program’s success.
5. JMM launches a new statewide collecting initiative in conjunction with an upcoming exhibition, Just Married! Wedding Stories of Jewish Maryland – In keeping with our mission to collect, preserve and interpret Maryland Jewish history, and to fill in gaps in our collection, JMM staff is looking to collect new material that reflect the diversity of Jewish Marylanders wedding traditions.
6. In preparation for our upcoming exhibit, Remembering Auschwitz, JMM staff, in partnership with artist Lori Schocket and The Human Element Project, held a series of workshops for Holocaust survivors and their families. The workshops resulted in the creation of collages, created on canvases that incorporated photocopies of participants’ photographs and documents that will be transformed into plaques. The plaques will be on display as part of our spring exhibit (March 5-May 29, 2017)
The Rozga siblings make collages honoring their parents.
7. Our educational programs make connections between past and present –
One example can be seen in a visit this fall by a group of students that included Syrian refugees who learned about immigration history – as they made connections with their own personal experiences – through a tour of Voices of Lombard Street.
In addition this year’s Lessons of the Shoah, a high school interfaith program co-sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council that took place at John Carroll High school, focused on the plight of refugees, past and present.
8. We continued to build new partnerships and expand existing ones – JMM has long benefitted from our continued partnerships with such organizations as the Baltimore Jewish Council, The Maryland State Department of Education and Baltimore City Schools. This year we were proud to co-sponsor programs with the Gordon Center; the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies; Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University and many others. These collaborations give us the opportunity to reach new and diverse audiences and also allow us to provide access to speakers and programs we would not be able to afford on our own.
One particularly successful joint program was developed in partnership with the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, an October event that was billed as a Jewish Baltimore Family Reunion. Alfred Moses delivered a talk in the Lloyd Street Synagogue based on his book about his family’s business.
9. After more than 160 years in existence, the Lloyd Street Synagogue receives new attention – The JMM’s star attraction, the Lloyd Street Synagogue, was the subject of new research, art, conversations and some well deserved maintenance. In conjunction with Paul Simon: Words and Music we developed a themed building tour that examined the role that music has played in the life of the different congregation that have called LSS home.
We also invited artists for a day of plein air painting and were delighted by the different artistic interpretations of our beloved synagogue.
Our efforts to breathe new life into the building resulted in a series of two conversations held with community stakeholders and representatives of other local history organizations. We asked participants to provide feedback about how we can better make use of the synagogue as a venue to attract new audiences (as well as encouraging repeat visitation). We were thrilled by the responses we received and look forward to implementing some of the ideas that were generated. Noting that the inside of the synagogue had gotten a little worn over the years, we also decided to invest in a major fall cleaning project that resulted in a sparkling interior.
10. JMM receives an award from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for an upcoming exhibit on the scrap industry – How gratifying it was to receive notification in September that the JMM, once again, was selected to receive a prestigious (and competitive) grant award from this federal agency. We received the notice just weeks after we launched the second phase of planning for our upcoming exhibition Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling with a site visit from members of our exhibit team including curator, Jill Vexler, and the folks from our design firm, Alchemy Studios.
As part of the team meeting in September, we visited a nearby scrap yard, Baltimore Scrap Corp.
The exhibit opens in Fall 2018.
As with all Top Ten lists, there are so many more highlights from the past year that I could have included. 2016 was, indeed, a banner year for the JMM. We look forward to seeing you in the year ahead and wish you and your family happy holidays and a wonderful new year!
A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.
Posted on September 21st, 2016 by Rachel
The Jewish Museum of Maryland’s newest original exhibition project, American Alchemy: From Junk to Scrap to Recycling officially launched its second phase of development with a convening of our project team, including new project curator, Jill Vexler, and our designers from Alchemy Studios. The exhibition which explores the history of Jewish involvement in the scrap industry also will reflect the experiences of non-Jews and covers a wide swath of history from the 18th-21st centuries. We are currently in the process of collecting stories and artifacts that reflect the unique nature of these businesses, many of which have remained in the same families for generations.
As you can see from this map, the scrap industry has a large national presence and our exhibit team is conducting research in many other cities beyond Baltimore.
What better way to inspire our team than a visit to a local scrap yard so we could get a first-hand look at the materials, technology and human capital that are necessary in order to transform one person’s junk into another person’s treasure. So we drove to south Baltimore to visit David Simon at Baltimore Scrap Corp. David regaled us with stories of life in the scrap industry and described the evolution of his family’s business which got its start in 1916.
The highlight of our visit was a guided tour of the yard where we saw huge mounds of metal object castaways and flattened cars that were awaiting their turn in the gigantic shredder (sadly, we could not see the shredder in action as it is used during night hours in order to save electricity costs).
We were all impressed by the sheer scale of materials that were piled high in mounds, not to mention the speed at which materials are completely transformed into reusable parts. We all left feeling energized and excited about our work on this project.
Baltimore Scrap Corp.
The project also got an important boost with news we received last week that the exhibit was the recipient of a highly competitive federal grant award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. American Alchemy opens at the JMM in Fall 2018.
A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.