A Visit to the Twin Cities

Posted on November 23rd, 2015 by

If you were tasked with coming up with a concept for a new core exhibition project that would tell the story of Maryland Jewish history for audiences of all ages and backgrounds, one that integrated new technologies and featured innovative exhibition design strategies, where would you start? One way to begin the process is to take a look at model exhibit projects across the country and to speak with leading museum professionals in search of inspiration. I was lucky enough to take part on a three-day fact finding mission to Minneapolis and St. Paul to do just that.

The JMM has recently embarked on the planning process to develop an exhibit that will replace Voices of Lombard Street. Our vision is to create an interactive exhibit that engages diverse audiences in learning about the many nuances of Maryland Jewish history, that highlights our outstanding collections and is truly a 21st century exhibit, meaning that it takes advantage of new technology and theories of how best to engage visitors through design.

Members of our exhibit advisory committee have spent the past few weeks traveling to other cities in search of innovative projects to help inform our project development and planning. In the beginning of the month, I had the privilege of visiting the Twin Cities with two other committee members, Program Committee Chair, Jerry Macks and Anita Kassof, Executive Director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry (and former Associate Director of the JMM). During our three day trip, we visited six museums, enjoyed the famed Midwestern hospitality (while not enjoying quite as much the cold weather) and took lots of notes. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.

Our first stop was the American Swedish Institute (www.asimn.org), which is located inside an early 20th century castle built by a Swedish immigrant who became a newspaper magnate. The museum’s entrance is in a modern visitor center built recently to house a beautiful and inviting gift shop, café and public program space. The museum definitely had its charms including the beautifully handcrafted interior design features as well as friendly and knowledgeable volunteers. The third floor of the house contained exhibits on such topics as the history of Swedish immigration to Minneapolis (we would have loved to have learned this info earlier in our visit) as well as on Swedish hospitals and music. The ASI’s mission to serve as a cultural center for people of all backgrounds, including many new immigrants who currently reside in Minneapolis, resonated with us and spoke to the significant role that ethnic specific museums can play in their communities.

One of many elaborately tiled fireplaces at the American Swedish Institute.

One of many elaborately tiled fireplaces at the American Swedish Institute.

Next up, the Bakken Museum (www.thebakken.org), a quirky museum founded by inventor Earl Bakken to house his collection of medical equipment and electrical devices. The museum’s exhibits feature an abundance of interactive displays that delight visitors of all ages and teach about an array of scientific principles. One of the things we most enjoyed about the museum was its promotion of social experiences among visitors through activities that involved more than one person.

For example, at Benjamin Franklin’s Electricity Party, one person turned cranks while another grabbed a metal bar to light sparks and ring bells.

For example, at Benjamin Franklin’s Electricity Party, one person turned cranks while another grabbed a metal bar to light sparks and ring bells.

Another highlight was the Cabinet of Curiosity that featured favorite artifacts from the museum’s collections selected by staff, volunteers and board members. It was fun to read why individuals selected the objects that they did and a nearby iPad provided additional information about specific artifacts.

Cabinet of Curiosity.

Cabinet of Curiosity

The next day was spent in St. Paul which is situated a mere 8 miles from Minneapolis across the Mississippi River. Our morning was spent at the impressive Minnesota Science Museum (www.smm.org/). The highlight of the visit was having the chance to meet with Paul Martin, Senior Vice President of Science Learning, who shared with us his vast knowledge about exhibit design and visitor engagement. It was enlightening hearing Paul’s observations about the many factors that play into visitors’ experiences and what kinds of things we should be taking into consideration as we begin planning our new core exhibit. Paul also kindly showed us around the museum’s exhibits which gave us the chance to see how these theories play out in an array of exhibit spaces. Most impressive were the Collector’s Corner where visitors are encouraged to bring in specimens from nature that they can research and, if they like, swap what they’ve brought for something else in the exhibit as well as a temporary exhibit that helps visitors explore and understand complex mathematical principles.

Minnesota Science Museum

Minnesota Science Museum

We also had the chance to see the groundbreaking exhibit, Race: Are We So Different? that challenges conventional notions of race. We left after three hours feeling energized and inspired.

From there, we walked a short distance to the Minnesota History Center, which contains exhibits exploring Minnesota history. Our initial impression was, honestly, not so great. It was a little difficult to find our way around and the first two exhibits we saw were packed with school kids. While we were impressed with the experiential nature of the exhibits as well as the many opportunities for hands-on engagement, we found them lacking in interpretation.

Although there definitely were some cool interactives such as stations where visitors could scan QR codes found on objects to learn more.

Although there definitely were some cool interactives such as stations where visitors could scan QR codes found on objects to learn more.

We persevered, however, and moved on to a quieter section of the museum where we experienced a beautiful exhibit honoring the lives of Minnesota’s “Greatest Generation,” the men and women who lived through the Depression and World War II. Another enjoyable exhibit explored the science behind Minnesota’s weather. As it was a rather chilly day (at least Anita, Jerry and I thought so – we were shocked to see people walking about without coats!), it was interesting learning about the extremes of weather that Minnesotans experience (and made me appreciate living in Baltimore much more).

For our last day, we ventured back to Minneapolis for one of the coolest museums I’ve ever visited. Mill City (www.millcitymuseum.org) is operated by the Minnesota History Center and built on the ruins of what was once a booming flour mill. In the cavernous space, visitors learn about the importance of the milling industry to Minneapolis’s history and the role that the Mississippi River played in its development. The museum experience takes advantage of its location by completely immersing visitors in the factory environment of a flour mill and one of its most unique (and fun) activities is an elevator ride that delivers the history of the mill through recorded oral histories and period sets that are revealed as the doors of the elevator open onto different floors. The elevator lets visitors out on the top floor where there is an observation deck that provides stunning views of the river.

View from Mill City.

View from Mill City.

The exhibit on the lower level of the mill includes a thorough history of the milling industry complete with a variety of interactive activities (many of which are low tech), a working kitchen where volunteers provide baking demonstrations (this is one of the few museums I’ve experienced that includes both smell and taste as integral parts of the visit) and a brief but informative film that provides an overview of Minneapolis’s history.

Mill City lower floor exhibit

Mill City lower floor exhibit

Although we were somewhat fatigued after spending so much time visiting museums, our flight home didn’t leave for a few hours so we decided to add one more non-history /non- science museum to our tour and visited the Walker Art Center (www.walkerart.org), a leading contemporary art museum. Our visit happened to coincide with the first Saturday of the month which is their free day so the place was teeming with visitors, many of whom brought their children for the variety of hands-on art workshops.  While it was refreshing to have the chance to view art (and the collection is outstanding), we were definitely feeling a little overwhelmed and museumed out, so we did not stay too long.

All in all, Jerry, Anita and I were thrilled to have the chance to see such a variety of outstanding museums. We came away with many terrific ideas that will certainly inform our exhibit planning process.

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

 

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Celebrate Arts Education

Posted on September 17th, 2015 by

Did you know that this week marks the fifth anniversary of National Arts Education Week? This is something that I recently learned by reading the weekly update of the area arts and culture scene distributed by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.  Study after study highlights the importance of exposing children of all ages to the arts in all its many forms. Local families and schools are fortunate to have access to such an incredible variety of museums where the arts come to life in such dynamic ways.

Given this important anniversary, I thought I’d take the opportunity to promote the JMM’s educational programs and resources and to highlight how they foster multidisciplinary connections between social studies, English language arts and fine arts.  While the JMM is traditionally thought of as a history museum, our education team is exceptionally talented at using our exhibits, collections and historic sites as springboards for activities and resources that integrate the arts.

City Spring students participate in a field trip to the JMM.

City Spring students participate in a field trip to the JMM.

This summer, JMM docent Robyn Hughes created an art program for campers with visual impairments from the Maryland School for the Blind in which students toured Voices of Lombard Street and then built neighborhoods out of art supplies.

This summer, JMM docent Robyn Hughes created an art program for campers with visual impairments from the Maryland School for the Blind in which students toured Voices of Lombard Street and then built neighborhoods out of art supplies.

A good example of this is our Immigrant’s Trunk program that explores immigration history through the lens of personal stories. Each of our Immigrant’s Trunk program brings the experience of a real life Jewish immigrant to life through reproduced photographs, documents and objects. The trunks come with a full set of lesson plans that integrate primary source analysis as well as creative writing assignments, storytelling and art activities. Teachers can also opt to schedule living history performances by professional actors who dramatize significant moments from each immigrant’s life.

Actor Terry Nicholetti brings to life the story of Bessie Bluefeld, a Russian immigrant who established Baltimore’s beloved Bluefeld’s catering business.

Actor Terry Nicholetti brings to life the story of Bessie Bluefeld, a Russian immigrant who established Baltimore’s beloved Bluefeld’s catering business.

Some of our programs have strong visual arts components, including a new initiative that encourages middle school students to interpret family history through multimedia art installations. Last year, JMM education director Ilene Dackman-Alon piloted My Family History Project through a partnership with Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv and the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore. As part of the program, students immersed themselves in genealogical research. They then went above and beyond the traditional family tree assignment by creating amazing visual representations of some aspect of their family’s experiences. The student artwork was displayed in the JMM as we hosted an evening reception for families. Everyone was amazed by the creativity and diversity of the artwork on display and how the students incorporated a variety of media as they highlighted something unique about their own family’s history. We are delighted to embark on the second year of this project and Ilene is expanding the initiative to work with additional schools.

An example of the art work on display in the My Family History Project.

An example of the art work on display in the My Family History Project.

Another piece of art created for the My Family History Project.

Another piece of art created for the My Family History Project.

Visual arts, drama, creative writing, storytelling…these are all art forms that can easily be integrated into JMM educational resources. The one medium that has not been as easy to incorporate is music, but I am excited to announce an exciting new educational offering this fall in conjunction with the opening of Paul Simon: Words and Music (on display October 11, 2015-January 18, 2016). Our education team has developed a curriculum that ties in with music education standards and exposes students to the worlds of music theory and the history of folk music. For all the educators out there, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Field trips can be scheduled by emailing our visitor services coordinator, Graham Humphrey at ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org.

Click here for more information about these and other JMM educational programs.

So take advantage of the wealth of cultural resources available locally and find time to visit a nearby museum. You’ll be glad you did!

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Summer Teachers Institute 2015 In Review

Posted on August 26th, 2015 by

This year’s Summer Teachers Institute focused on a seminal event that recently took place, the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. For an excellent summary of the program, please see intern, Eden Cho’s recent blog post: Three Days Later…. Having recently had the opportunity to review teacher evaluations from the workshop, I thought I’d take the opportunity to report on the impact that our annual program has on participants and how it shapes what and how they teach their students.

Summer Teachers Institute Flyer 2015

This year’s Summer Teachers Institute flyer

This year marked the 11th anniversary of this annual program. Since its inception in 2005, it has been a joy to have the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of dedicated educators willing to give up part of their summer vacation in order to enhance their pedagogical skills on a difficult topic. What is always interesting is that the program attracts both new participants each year as well as repeat attendees (including a handful that have participated for more than 5 years!) While it is challenging coming up with new program content year after year that meets the needs of teachers who are new to teaching Holocaust history and literature as well as those who are more seasoned, we are fortunate to have access to an incredible group of scholars and master educators who facilitate sessions on a wide variety of topics.

A total of 38 people representing many different schools and disciplines participated this year. The majority represented public schools (including Baltimore City and Baltimore and Harford Counties). Other participants teach at  while independent, Catholic and Jewish congregational schools as well as universities and we had one home-school educator.

While the fact that so many teachers elect to return year after year is one measure of the high quality of the program and the many benefits it offers, we also conduct surveys that provide us with valuable feedback. This year’s evaluations provided us with insightful feedback. Nearly all the sessions were rated by participants with the highest marks. Teachers also expressed their appreciation for the quality of the presenters and the abundance of resource material that they received. The following are sample participant comments.

*I liked how we started with Auschwitz film and survivor story, then went backwards to discuss the history.

*Agenda was well developed and followed. Guest speakers were well versed in the content and kept the group involved.

*Superlative speakers who provided different visions of Auschwitz- informative, great presenters.

*I know from talking with Louise (Gezcy) that there was a last minute change in the program. You did a wonderful job making it work so smoothly.

*It is great to hear from the practicing educator. Thank you for your great energy, Louise (Gezcy)!

*Wow! What an inspiration Bluma (Shapiro) is! To have gone through what she did, yet be willing to share her story and teach important lessons about life is simply amazing. She is a portrait of perseverance, forgiveness, and positivity!

*A blessing to meet living history! Thanks.

*I could listen to Shiri (Sandler) all day! A marvelous presentation, not just about the background of Auschwitz, but how to read photos and artifacts! Great job!

*A wealth of information. A very concise history of Auschwitz, the Jewish community, and what the Germans chose it. Very interesting! Very interesting lens of looking at Auschwitz before it became the death camp. Shiri is very energetic and knowledgeable. Thank you! Great resources.

*[Heller Kreshtool] was a pleasure! Great decision to place her as the last session. Refreshing perspective I hadn’t considered much.

*The story of a child of survivors is critical to how we now teach the Holocaust.

*Doesn’t matter how many times I visit (the USHMM), it’s still powerful.

*This was an excellent opportunity (presentation by Dr. White and Dr. Cohen) to discover how to teach complexity and depth in investigative skills to our students.

*Very useful information (Centropa presentation)! Amazing website full of information! Liked being given time to play around with the website. Novel theme: show whole person, not just person as victim.

This was an excellent opportunity (conversation with Fr. Bob and Rabbi Josh) for guided dialogue with the presenters as facilitators.

Great overview of 4 graphic novels! Good reasons to use graphic novels. Also gave novel recommendations for children. Dynamic speaker (Josh Headley)!

Thank you, and your staff, for another insightful Summer Teachers Institute!

Thanks again for this amazing experience. The institute was great and I feel lucky that I was able to participate.

Because our Summer Teachers Institute meets the qualifications of both the Maryland State Department of Education as well as Baltimore City Public Schools  for high quality professional development (in order to qualify, we need to submit an application for review), we are able to offer participants professional development credit. In order to be eligible for the credit, they must turn in a written reflection (for MSDE credit) as well as an implementation plan (i.e. lesson plan, for Baltimore City). These reflections and teaching plans provide another measure for assessing programmatic impact as they demonstrate which aspect of the programs are most useful for teachers and which resources they plan on using. It was gratifying to learn from this year’s submissions that teachers plan on integrating content from each session as well as many of the websites, books and lesson plan resources they received. Evaluations and reflections also provide important feedback as we plan for next year’s program.

We are grateful to our program sponsors, Jerry and Judy Macks, the Klein Sandler Family Fund and the Conference for Claims Against Germany for making our Summer Teachers Institute possible and for enabling us to reach out to such a diverse group of educators and provide them with valuable classroom resources.

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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