Accessibility at the JMM

Posted on April 8th, 2016 by

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.

Improved signage

Improved signage

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

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 in jewish museum of maryland




Exploring Next Narratives

Posted on March 25th, 2016 by

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

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”.

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.

At the Jewish Museum we viewed an incredible exhibit displaying gowns, sketches and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi.

Center for Jewish History

Center for Jewish History

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

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Stepping Back in Time

Posted on February 24th, 2016 by

Walking into the Krieger Schechter Day School on a dreary and snowy February day, my colleagues Trillion, Joanna and I felt as though we had traveled back in time. Students wearing poodle skirts and letter jackets roamed the halls and the sounds of rock and roll played in the background. We had come to participate in the middle school’s Learning Festival, a three-day break from normal academics when the entire student body immerses itself in the study of a specific theme through speakers, field trips and a variety of hands-on activities. This year’s theme, “The 1950s: From Prosperity to Protest”, was an especially rich topic, one that was clearly embraced by students and teachers alike.

The JMM was thrilled to be invited to participate. To help shed light on an important 1950s trend, suburbanization, we installed our traveling exhibition, Jews on the Move, which examines the history of the move of Baltimore’s Jewish community from the city to the suburbs from 1945-68. The exhibition was on view for two weeks in a hallway near Chizuk Amuno’s sanctuary where it was enjoyed by both the school community as well as by synagogue congregants.

Jews on the Move was developed as a collaborative project with The Program in Museums and Society at the Johns Hopkins University. It was originally installed in 2012 at the Johns Hopkins University. It has since been featured at many additional venues including the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Library and several synagogues.

Jews on the Move was developed as a collaborative project with The Program in Museums and Society at the Johns Hopkins University. It was originally installed in 2012 at the Johns Hopkins University. It has since been featured at many additional venues including the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Library and several synagogues.

In addition to having the exhibit on view, Trillion and I led two workshops for students during which they had an opportunity to look for photos and stories in the exhibit (bonus points for finding a 1960s photo of Chizuk Amuno!).

Students viewing the exhibit.

Students viewing the exhibit.

Students viewing the exhibit.

Students viewing the exhibit.

They then worked together in groups to review 1950s era advertisements from real estate companies that ran in the Jewish Times that tried to entice suburban home buyers. Students were asked to identify what features were highlighted to appeal to potential buyers (spacious floor plans, new and modern appliances, yards, etc) and how the use of images and typography helped make the case.

Ads like this one from the Jewish Times in 1960 appealed to families looking to move out of crowded homes in the city.

Ads like this one from the Jewish Times in 1960 appealed to families looking to move out of crowded homes in the city.

After they had analyzed their photos, students then designed their own ad for a 1950s-era suburban development that they shared with classmates.  We loved the enthusiasm with which the students tackled this assignment and were even treated to an advertising jingle and dance by one of the groups.

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




« Previous PageNext Page »