Transforming the Gallery

Posted on February 22nd, 2016 by

In its natural state, the Feldman Gallery is a nice big open space, with high walls and a wide expanse of floor – but of course the point of an exhibit gallery is to show off the contents, not admire the walls, and every exhibition fills the room a little differently.  With each exhibit we get used to that particular configuration, the feel of the space, the color scheme and the visual focal points: The gallery looks like this. Then that exhibit closes and the cases and temporary walls are removed, and we think, “Oh, wow! What a nice big open space!”

Joanna Church taking down a poster in the gallery.

Deinstalling Cinema Judaica, fall 2015. So much space!

Soon enough, though, it’s time to put up the next exhibit.  The gallery’s open floor plan is versatile, but almost always requires some additional structures to create more vertical space. In the case of our upcoming Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibition (opening March 13), we need a LOT of additional vertical space.  Thanks to the exhibit fabrication team at Precision Plastics, the Feldman Gallery is being transformed into a series of small galleries, each custom-designed to highlight a particular aspect of the exhibit’s theme through images, documents, and a variety of artifacts. And every day, at least one staff member sneaks into the room (careful not to disturb the people doing the work) to admire the progress.

Framing out the new walls.

Framing out the new walls.

Plywood and drywall - these walls mean business.

Plywood and drywall – these walls mean business.

Some finishing touches: baseboards and paint.

Some finishing touches: baseboards and paint.

Not all the walls are purely functional; here’s the pharmacy window, almost finished (with the movie screen from Paul Simon: Words and Music behind it, waiting to be painted).

Not all the walls are purely functional; here’s the pharmacy window, almost finished (with the movie screen from Paul Simon: Words and Music behind it, waiting to be painted).

The view from the top. Goodbye, one-giant-room: Welcome Beyond Chicken Soup!

The view from the top. Goodbye, one-giant-room: Welcome Beyond Chicken Soup!

Once the walls are ready, it’ll be time for the installation of cases, furniture, and graphics – and then my favorite part, the artifacts.  Then the transformation of the Feldman Gallery will be complete!

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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