Reflections on Paul Simon

Posted on January 21st, 2016 by

Visitors listen in Paul Simon: Words & Music

Visitors listen in Paul Simon: Words & Music

As the “Paul Simon: Words & Music” exhibit is being packed up to return to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH, I wanted to reflect on its run at the JMM. We had 5,159 visitors to the Museum since mid-October while the exhibit was open.  Just this past Sunday, we had 474 visitors which is more than anyone can remember coming in a single day. On Sunday, we also had two well attended programs including a children’s program with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a concert in Lloyd Street Synagogue by SONiA disappear fear. Visitors have come from across the country and even from a few foreign countries such as Brazil, Poland and Australia.

SONia performs in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

SONia performs in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

We had a good diversity of groups seeing Paul Simon as well. Last Thursday evening, we had around 70 young Jewish professionals associated with IMPACT attend a “Night at the Museum” where they enjoyed drinks, snacks and an exclusive look at the Paul Simon exhibit. Prior to that, several special needs students visited the Museum from the Maiden Choice School as well as students from the Maryland School of the Blind where they got to use the new Braille handouts that our docent Robyn Hughes developed. We’ve also had visits from several senior groups, Jewish congregations, public and private schools, colleges and even a group of men from a drug addiction treatment center.

Comments abound.

Comments abound.

For the past few months, visitors have been leaving sticky notes commenting on the exhibit. It has been fun to read some of the comments such as visitors being excited that they got to feel like a teenager again and others who thanked us for the memories and the inspiration. One man described growing up near Paul Simon’s neighborhood in Queens and another recalled being at the Simon and Garfunkel concert in Central Park in 1981.

Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in AMerica logo, shades of green with a stethoscope as the ampersand.

Mark your calendars for March 13th!

Although we are sad to see Paul Simon go, the space will not be empty for long, as we will begin installing our next original exhibit, “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America,” which will open on March 13th.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

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A Comment Wall to Remember

Posted on January 20th, 2016 by

For many museum professionals, the exhibit comment book is a mixed blessing. We set them out optimistically, hoping for substantive, reflective remarks from our visitors … but all too often, those remarks are voiced or thought, but not written down.  In the case of a particularly empty book we’ll welcome “nice exhibit”, “I liked it”, or even a disheartening “your layout was terrible” (well, at least they were paying attention!), but that’s hardly what we’re looking for.

Sometimes we get lucky.  The “Voices of Lombard Street” book often receives written responses, and the movie posters in last summer’s “Cinema Judaica” prompted some great comments from kids and adults.  But that success pales in comparison to my new favorite thing, the comment wall from our just-closed “Paul Simon: Words and Music” exhibit.

Top: the comment wall in late October, 2015. Bottom: the same wall on January 15th, 2016. So many comments!

Top: the comment wall in late October, 2015. Bottom: the same wall on January 15th, 2016. So many comments!

I can claim a little credit – since some of the albums used to construct the ‘wall’ belong to my parents  [read more on that here] – but I have to give props to Rachel, who suggested the idea of letting visitors put their notes right onto framed albums.  A genius plan: easy to install, and sticky-note comment walls or boards are a little more interactive and entertaining than the traditional book. I had moderate hopes, expecting a moderate number of comments.

Happily, through some magical combination of factors, the wall o’ albums was a roaring success. Over the course of three months, we had over 300 sticky notes left for us; far from having an empty wall, we had to periodically remove comments just to make room. (One visitor even complained that they couldn’t see the album covers anymore.)  And these weren’t just “great exhibit!” comments, though of course those are gratifying to receive. These were deeply personal reactions to the exhibit experience – so personal that many of them were addressed directly to Paul Simon himself.  Here are a few:

“You explain your creative process very well – most artists can’t. That makes you even greater. Thanks!”

“I like the song ‘Mrs. Robinson’ you are amazingly good at writing songs.” (from a 13 year old visitor)

“Sometimes you were the key to my soul’s survival”

“Okay Paul – why say you were from Kew Gardens when you grew up in Kew Gardens Hills??”

“This exhibition makes me miss all those that I used to enjoy the music with. Thanks for the beautiful sounds Paul”

Favorite songs and albums were called out, along with the memories they evoke of important times, places and people in our visitors’ lives. Some comments were humorous; others were poignant. One required multiple pieces of paper, and another started a debate with later commenters drawing arrows to indicate their responses. Based on the evidence, I must conclude that the “Graceland” tour did in fact offer the Best Concert Ever, and that Simon’s music (and this exhibit) are an excellent way to bond with one’s parents… while the parents are busy remembering their own youth. Some examples:

“My first album [was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’], along with ‘Free to Be You and Me.’ Thanks, Mom and Dad!”

“I sang songs from this album [‘Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme’] in my junior high variety show”

“I close my eyes (because that’s the way I always listened to Paul or Paul & Art) and I’m still in my twenties. Sigh…”

“I walked through snowstorm to get 45 [of ‘Sounds of Silence’]”

“I’m 23 – not alive in the 60s/70s. But S&G were one of the first musicians I listened to. So glad I could see this! and with my dad, who played this music when I was a child.”

“This song [‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’] got me through lots of tough times as a teenager. It was like a life line to me!”

“Paul Simon – major reason I wanted to learn acoustic guitar. (Why did I think ‘Bookends’ wouldn’t be hard?)”

“Ok – greatest concert – Graceland @ Merriweather Post – dancing in the aisles”

I had a lot of favorite notes, but this one left on the last day spoke to me in particular, since it mentions the artifacts. Perhaps the writer is a new recruit to the museum field?

“This was really interesting…in a good way! I liked learning about Paul Simon and seeing his keepsakes was great!”

“This was really interesting…in a good way! I liked learning about Paul Simon and seeing his keepsakes was great!”

Altogether, the stories and notes left by the stream of visitors proved to be a vital and engaging part of the exhibition.  I often went into the gallery to find people studying the comment wall as thoroughly as they did any other text or artifact.

Visitors in action!

Visitors in action!

I’ll try to keep my expectations realistic for our next exhibits, but we’re a little bit spoiled now thanks to these great insights into our audience’s experience.  Help us out by making sure (whatever museum you’re in) to leave a response.  After all, you might not appreciate it if museum staff resort to creeping up behind you with pencils poised, ready to jot down overheard thoughts and questions.  So keep on writing those comments!

Sometimes simple says it best.

Sometimes simple says it best.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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Performance Counts: Looking Ahead

Posted on December 11th, 2015 by

Today’s Performance Counts looks ahead.  JMM plans its exhibits (both rented and JMM originals) on a two to three year rolling schedule.  So while you are enjoying Paul Simon: Words and Music this month we have already locked in our offerings well after 2016’s Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. With just one traveling exhibit gallery we try to represent a range of important topics in the Jewish experience – from popular culture to communal tragedies.  I have asked Deborah to offer a preview of an important upcoming project.

~Marvin

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In the spring of 2017 we are designing a project that is composed of multiple elements and multiple perspectives.  Remembering Auschwitz is comprised of two exhibits, a commemorative art installation and a program series.  Our object is to take an international story, well known in its outline, and to bring new focus to the details – by looking at the lives of individuals before, during and after the Holocaust.  The project is expected to run from March 5-May 29, 2017, overlapping with the annual Yom HaShoah and 75 years after the camp at Auschwitz became the launching ground for Hitler’s “Final Solution”.

The Feldman gallery will feature two very different exhibits looking at two periods of time A Town Known As Auschwitz: The Life and Death of a Jewish Community comes from the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. It explores the history of the Polish and Jewish community that eventually became the site of the notorious camp.  The town of Oświęcim—today in Poland—has been known by different names, in different languages, at different times. Though it has a long and varied history prior to World War II, Jews and non-Jews lived side by side in Oświęcim and called it home. This exhibit examines the rich history of Oświęcim, Poland—the town the Germans called Auschwitz—through photographs that trace the life of the town and its Jewish residents, from the 16th century through the post-war period.

A Town Known as Auschwitz - History

A Town Known as Auschwitz – History

A second exhibit, The Auschwitz Album: The Story of a Transport from Yad Vashem interprets the only surviving visual evidence of the process of mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Auschwitz Album includes photos that were taken in late May or early June 1944, either by Ernst Hoffman or Bernhard Walter, two SS men assigned to fingerprint and take ID photos of the inmates. The photos portray the arrival of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, many of whom came from the Berehov Ghetto, which itself was a collecting point for Jews from several other small towns. The beginning of summer 1944 marked the apex of the deportation of Hungarian Jewry. For this purpose, a special rail line was extended from the railway station outside Auschwitz to a ramp inside the camp. Many of the photos in the album were taken on this ramp. Upon arriving in the camp, the Jews underwent a selection process, carried out by SS doctors and wardens. Those considered fit for work were sent into the camp, where they were registered, deloused, and assigned to barracks. The others were sent to the gas chambers.

From The Auschwitz Album

From The Auschwitz Album

These two exhibits will be displayed side by side and will provide visitors with the opportunity to consider the full history of the town and camp. We are planning on supplementing the exhibit with an art installation, Memory Reconstruction: A Sacred Culture Rebuilt, that will serve as a tribute to Maryland’s community of Holocaust survivors and their families. The JMM will work with California-based artist, Lori Shocket, to facilitate an interactive workshop for survivors and their families. During the workshops, participants bring family photographs and documents as well as stories to share with one another. Each survivor’s story is told through a collage printed on birch wood that integrates photos of personal artifacts along with stories. Collages will then be assembled into an art installation in the JMM lobby. Check out the website humanelementproject.com to learn more about this project and to see samples of the installation from The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Selections from Memory Reconstructed

Selections from Memory Reconstruction

The exhibitions also present us with an abundance of programming opportunities for both school and general audiences. For many years, the JMM has partnered with the Baltimore Jewish Council to facilitate Holocaust-related educational programs for students and teachers and we plan on developing many new educational resources that will help us expand these efforts. We anticipate holding many related public programs including survivor talks, lectures, films and authors talks.

Planning for the exhibitions and programs involves many members of our team.  Although these are “rental” exhibits, we still need to develop a design for space, plan for the preparation of the gallery and the handling of artifacts, and work with the project artist on connecting to Baltimore resources.  And of course, the most critical part of our planning is raising the funds to support all the activities above and more.  Yad Vashem has generously donated the rental of its exhibit thanks to a referral from JMM Board member, Dr. Sheldon Bearman.  Still we estimate that the total cost of mounting the exhibits and supporting the programs will be about $50,000. We are working with the Board Development committee to identify community members with a strong interest in supporting this important project.

We know that many of you reading this newsletter appreciate JMM’s commitment to serving as a premiere Holocaust educational venue.  If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more about sponsorship opportunities for this project (or any of our upcoming exhibits), please contact me at (410) 732-6400 x236 / dcardin@jewishmuseummd.org.

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