Networking with the Nation

Posted on May 19th, 2017 by

Blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Last week, Collections Manager, Joanna Church and I attended the conference of the American Alliance of Museums in St. Louis.  We were two out of more than 4,000 museum professionals gathered there to discuss changing fiscal and social contexts, the most recent technological developments and yes, some general kibbitzing about people and exhibits creating a buzz.

Projections on the ceiling of Union Station in St Louis.

Projections on the ceiling of Union Station in St Louis.

Wearing my hat as a liaison between the museum world and our JMM members, I thought I might use this newsletter to share a few highlights of the conference and how they might impact our future.

The theme of the event was “Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion”.  The first featured speaker was Haben Girma, an Eritrean refugee who is also the first blind/deaf graduate of Harvard Law School.  Haben would have been an impressive orator in any forum… she had a wicked sense of humor and used it effectively to press the case for greater attention to access needs.  Her very presence spoke volumes as to how small acts of consideration can make big differences in enabling everyone to participate and contribute.

But the inclusion story was not only about accommodating disabilities, there were several sessions that dealt with demographic diversity.  On the opening day of the conference I represented the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) on a panel entitled “Transcending Boundaries: The New ‘Identity Museums'”.  I was joined by moderator, Marsha Semmel (former Deputy Director of IMLS), Lisa Sasaki (Director of the Asian-Pacific American Center) and Antonio Rodriguez (Chair, AAM’s Latino Network).  We talked about the challenges of simultaneously meeting the needs of constituent and cross-over audiences, the ways that on-line and mobile devices are reshaping our delivery of content, and opportunities for collaboration with non-“identity museums.”  The recent CAJM meeting in Boston and JMM’s own work on our new core exhibit helped inform my presentation.

The conference was also our first opportunity to pitch our upcoming exhibit Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling to an assembly of traveling exhibit coordinators from both history and science museums.  Our exhibit – which includes a slice of technology, a shmear of history and a topping of environmental science – received a very positive reception.

A curiosity from the expo floor - this is a cut-out combined with a projection, but it felt like a hologram.

A curiosity from the expo floor – this is a cut-out combined with a projection, but it felt like a hologram.

Our main purpose at the conference though, is not to present, but to learn from others.  Joanna, for example, not only sat in on sessions about the nuts and bolts of collections registration and storage, but also attended programs that took a broader look at collecting strategies, audience engagement, and exhibit design within the framework of the theme of diversity and inclusion. Several speakers tackled issues of collecting and exhibiting traumatic history, recent events, and “risky” topics, issues we all wrestle with.  She quoted one speaker whose advice was “steal and adapt”: that is, when faced with a problem, we can look to our fellow museums for guidance, since it’s likely one of them has already encountered the same problem.  Joanna pointed out that diversity of types of museums in attendance at AAM is one of this conference’s great strengths, and it reminds herthat we don’t have to go it alone.

The math of music from "Math Alive" at the St. Louis Science Center.

The math of music from “Math Alive” at the St. Louis Science Center.

Speaking of museum diversity, it was on full display both in the projects highlighted in the sessions and in the venues for the evening events.  AAM’s award for excellence went to “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum in Philadelphia.  It is a bold concept, dramatically designed – can’t wait to see it.  In St. Louis itself, the stand-out project for me was “#1 in Civil Rights” at the Missouri History Museum – featuring the ACTivist in Action program, a unique fusion of theater and exhibit in one seamless experience.  A close runner-up for innovation was the “Math Alive” traveling exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center (I missed it during its premiere at the Smithsonian in 2012 – it appears to be holding up well for a five year old exhibit).  And perhaps the most impressive venue for the conference was the Missouri Botanic Garden, not just in terms of scale and beauty, but in the cleverness of its design.

From the venues to the sessions to the expo floor, we packed our bags full of new ideas to bring back to JMM.

The Japanese Garden at the  Missouri Botanic Garden

The Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

The Mediterranean Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

The Mediterranean Garden at the Missouri Botanic Garden

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights: Learning By Doing

Posted on April 21st, 2017 by

Want to listen to a pumping heart? Save the day at Ft. McHenry by removing ammunition from a stockade? Turn a pickle into a light bulb?

If you’ve visited JMM in the last few years, you might have done all of the above.  The opportunities to “learn by doing” continue this summer with our next exhibit, Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland now under development.

As you might expect, this exhibit features wedding gowns, accessories, invitations, and even ketubahs that are more than 150 years old.  But in making this experience accessible to people of all ages and all learning styles it will also contain “interactive” experiences.  Despite the 21st century jargon in the name, interactives in museums date back more than a century.

In 1911, Jewish businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald took his 8 year-old son William to the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  There he saw something new in the museum world – instead of halls exclusively devoted to objects in cases, some of the exhibits had cranks and levers and pulleys.  These devices invited visitors not just to observe the scientific world but to understand it through participation. Rosenwald was so impressed with the impact of this new style of museum experience that he became determined to bring it back to America, to his hometown of Chicago – and so began the story of the Museum of Science and Industry, the nation’s largest science museum.

Over the course of the 20th century, interactives migrated from science museums to children’s museums and by the 1980s to natural history and history museums as well.  These exhibit units are sometimes characterized as “activities for kids,” but it is the experience of museum professionals that interactives receive as much of a workout from adults as children, if only vicariously (i.e. “Johnny, try pulling the crank first and then flipping the lever”).

In approaching the interactives for Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland, we began, as always, with educational objectives…how do we transform the topic into a vehicle for inspiring in-depth exploration and critical reasoning?  What concepts and activities would fit our exhibit themes, while attracting visitors both young and old?  We came up with a mix of puzzles, tactile experiences, and audio rewards to engage the brain as well as the senses.

The meeple family tree

An important part of interactive planning is beta testing. Over the winter, we tested two of our activities, one on the public and one on the JMM staff.
Our seating chart puzzle, designed by our in-house game maven, involves a set of adorable but in-law challenged meeples [wondering what meeples are? (and no, the singular of “meeples” is not “merson”)].  Our meeple families: the color-coded Pinkerts and Greensteins, Silvermans and Goldbergs needs to be strategically seated to achieve a set of goals for the bride and groom.  In this way we hoped to transform a common problem into a 3-D logic puzzle – both entertaining and thought provoking.

A seating challenge!

We set a simple prototype in the JMM lobby and invited visitors to give it a try.  This gave us insight into what visitors found confusing – such as the fact that unlabeled meeples are indistinguishable (so who could say if cousin Steve was sitting where he should be?) We experimented with affixing tiny labels to the meeples, simplifying the game’s rules and clarifying how to reset the game board for the next player.  All of these small adjustments will contribute to successful interactive – a tool that promotes learning (and fun).

Curator Karen takes a crack at matching photos

Joanna’s match-the-photo puzzle was tested out on the staff in a slightly less formal manner (but with scorekeeping, which always adds to the fun). In this activity, players are asked to match the wedding and anniversary photos of several Maryland couples from various eras.  Our collections include some great images, thanks to generations of Marylanders celebrating the milestone anniversaries of parents and grandparents.  Eleven of our staff and volunteers gave the game a try; there were mixed results, score-wise (and yes, one person did successfully match all eight couples), but everyone found themselves engrossed in the challenge.

Marketing and Development Manager Rachel had a tough time as the inaugural tester

These trial games were invaluable.  In the case of the photos, Joanna learned that the original version – a scattering of sixteen photos from eight couples, with no indication as to which images were wedding and which were anniversary – was much too difficult for anyone who hadn’t been staring at the pictures for three days like she had.  A few tweaks to the set-up improved things considerably. Our goal is to make interactives challenging – but not frustrating, often a difficult “sweet spot” to find.Interactives are just one component in turning a space into an experience.  A strong interactive complements, but does not replace, memorable images or artifacts – but the right tools can transport the visitor from “watcher” to “doer” and give them a sense of personal ownership of an exhibit.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert (with assistance from Collections Manager Joanna Church). To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Greetings Graham: Passover & Beyond Edition

Posted on March 17th, 2017 by

Greetings Graham,

I’ll be visiting from out of town and was looking for things to do during Passover. What kind of special programs will you offer and what are your holiday hours?

I’m also looking for a special gift for the people inviting me to their seder, any recommendations?

~Elijah

 

Dear Elijah,

We hope that you will be able to visit us when you are in town! While we will be closed starting at 3:30 pm on Monday, April 10th through April 12th as well as April 17th and 18th. Still, I would encourage you to visit at other times to take a docent-led tour of our two historic synagogues and explore our exhibits Voices of Lombard Street and Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity. We are open Sunday through Thursday, 10am – 5 pm.

On Wednesday, April 5th at 7pm, the Global Theatre Project in partnership with the Immigration Outreach Service Center of Baltimore and the Jewish Museum of Maryland presents An Explorer’s Desire – theater, self-reflection and dialogue about the immigration and refugee crisis which will be followed by a “Walk of Remembrance and Refuge.” In addition, we have a special Family Story Telling program on April 16th where you and your whole family can create a beautiful piece of art that reflects your family’s history.

Esther’s Place

While you are at the JMM, visit Esther’s Place and speak with Devan Southerland, our Shop Assistant, who would be more than happy to show you all of our unique merchandise. We have everything you need for your seder including cooking books, beautiful wooden seder plates, matzah trays, salt water and horseradish bowls. We even have color changing Passover mugs and matzah-themed aprons. I am confident we can fulfill most of your shopping needs!


Greetings Graham,

I am getting ready for Passover by cleaning out my closet and found pictures from my wedding (which I have to say was the wedding of the century), and from my friend’s wedding. I have more pictures than I know what to do with! I heard that you will be putting on an exhibition about Jewish weddings and thought it would be a nice surprise for my friend if her wedding was included. How do I go about doing this?

~Busy Cleaning

Dear BC,

Yes! In conjunction with our upcoming exhibition Just Married! Wedding Stories from the Jewish Museum of Maryland, we are in the process of creating an online exhibition, Marrying Maryland which will feature photos and invitations from as many different weddings as we can find. We are looking for material from all weddings that occurred in Maryland and had some connection to the Jewish community.

You can find out more on our website about how to send us your pictures. Don’t delay though, because the virtual exhibit as well as the physical exhibit opens on June 18th!


Greetings Graham,

I’ll be bringing some of our former players back to Baltimore in late May and want to show them a bit of culture. What do you recommend?

~Mike Cuellar

Dear Mike,

There is a lot going on at the JMM in late May to keep your players occupied!  The highlight is  our Annual Meeting, which will feature Steven V. Roberts, a professor, columnist and best-selling author who has been a journalist for more than 50 years.

Roberts will deliver the Samuel Boltansky Memorial Keynote address. His talk will focus on how immigrants have provided a continuous source of vitality and ingenuity to this country since its founding (not news for Cuellar and Aparicio).  He will also explore  the special responsibility of Jews to welcome strangers – a responsibility that has its roots in Exodus and the story of Moses’ exile.

As you plan your visit, keep in mind that while we are open on Memorial Day, the JMM will be closed May 31st and June 1st for the holiday of Shavuot.


Greetings Graham,

I’ve been going to Camp Airy for years and now am a camp counselor. I’m looking for ideas about field trips for our summer camp. Will you be offering anything special this summer?

~Young Idealist

Dear Young Idealist,
We would love to have your camp visit! One of our trained educators will take your group on a highly interactive tour of our two historic synagogues, Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel. While on the synagogue tour, your campers will step back in time and learn what it was like for Jewish immigrants to come to Baltimore in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  In fact, our Lloyd Street Synagogue, the third oldest still standing in the country and the oldest in Maryland, was the home of three different congregations – two synagogues and a Lithuanian Catholic Church. In addition, you will see a matzah oven and stand atop the oldest existing mikvah complex in the country.

Your campers will also explore our immersive exhibits Voices of Lombard Street and the Synagogue Speaks. Depending on the age of your campers, we an also offer a hands-on archaeology activity where campers piece together and date reproduced fragments of objects found around Lloyd Street Synagogue during its archaeological excavation. If you would like more information about our experiential educational programs, I encourage you to visit our website.

In addition to touring our historic synagogues and exhibits, we have just developed a self-guided walking tour of the Historic Jonestown Neighborhood made up of the oral histories of the people who lived and worked in this area. If you wanted to make it a full day outing, add on a visit to the Flag House which tells the story of the sewing of our flag that inspired our National Anthem.  I, (ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org) or our Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon, idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org, would be more than happy to help plan your visit!

~Visitor Services Coordinator Graham Humphrey

Have your own “Greetings Graham” question? Send him an email at ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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