JMM Insights: January 2014

Posted on January 17th, 2014 by

People are often surprised to hear how long it takes from the time an exhibition idea is conceived to its installation in one of our galleries. In fact, exhibition development is a long and multi-tiered process and involves the contributions of a team of individuals each of whom brings diverse skills and areas of expertise to the table that are necessary to create a rich and engaging high quality exhibition. In addition, we often find that the final exhibition is vastly different from what we had anticipated when the project was conceived as we follow the trail of research that often reveals new exciting discoveries suggesting a different interpretive tact than what was originally proposed.

Curator Karen Falk

Curator Karen Falk

At the JMM, we are fortunate to have a skilled exhibition curator, Karen Falk, who takes the lead on developing original exhibitions (including Chosen Food and the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing project). The curator plays a pivotal role in shaping the exhibit’s big ideas and concepts; conducting research; selecting photographs, documents, and objects to include and determining where in the exhibit they best fit; writing the exhibit script and label text; and supervising the exhibition design and fabrication process. While the curator guides the process, exhibition development at the JMM is very much a collaborative effort. Other members of the team from within the JMM include our collections manager (Jobi Zink), who oversees loan processing, artifact conservation, and exhibit installation; our education director (Ilene Dackman-Alon) who ensures that exhibit content and interactives meet the needs of school audiences; CFO (Susan Press) who develops project budgets; and our executive director (Marvin Pinkert) and assistant director (Deborah Cardin) who participate in various stages of exhibition development. Additional JMM staff members play significant roles in other important aspects such as program development, marketing, gallery preparation, and fundraising. The JMM also relies on the talents of consultants to assist in the critical areas of exhibition design and fabrication. The exhibition designer is typically brought in early in the process and works closely with the project team to refine concepts and to create floor plans, interactive activities, and a graphic identity for the exhibit. Once the design stage is complete, exhibition fabricators work to build exhibit elements including printing panels, labels, and background images. This entire process from start to finish takes a minimum of two years.

Mark your calendars!

Mark your calendars!

Because we do not have enough resources in house to develop original exhibits to install something new in the Feldman Gallery once, much less twice a year, we also rent exhibitions for display that originate at other museums. While traveling exhibits do not involve as much work, JMM staff still must oversee details large and small from negotiating contract agreements to taking care of shipping and insurance arrangements to modifying the exhibit’s design to fit the specifications of our galleries. Some exhibits, such as the upcoming Project Mah Jongg which comes to us from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, are installed more or less as they were originally designed with just a few modifications. For others, we make larger adjustments to the exhibit’s design so that we can add materials that reflect the Maryland experience. For example, for our current exhibit, Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, we conducted extensive research into the history of Maryland Jewish involvement in the war and added many new stories and artifacts. The resulting installation in our gallery is quite different from how it originally appeared at Yeshiva University Museum.

Mendes Cohen, 1818

Mendes Cohen, 1818

We often get asked how we come up with ideas for exhibits and there really is no simple answer to this question. Topics come to us from many sources including staff, volunteers, board members, visitors, and interns. Sometimes an exhibit project is proposed for a specific reason such as a desire to showcase a particular collection or to tie in with larger communal events.  One current exhibit under development, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, was initially proposed by executive director Marvin Pinkert as we were looking to fill in what we thought was going to be a small gap between two other exhibits. The original rationale for this project was an interest in participating in Baltimore’s anniversary celebration of the War of 1812 through the creation of a small scale exhibit focusing on Mendes Cohen, a member of one of Jewish Baltimore’s early prominent families who was a traveler, adventurer, and collector. Our initial proposal was to focus on his wartime involvement at Fort McHenry. We also were eager to display some of the artifacts that we have on display belonging to Mendes including a portable writing desk and jacket.

A puzzle preview

A puzzle preview

As we began exhibit research, we uncovered many new discoveries about Mendes and his family and what began as plans for a small temporary exhibit have turned into a full-fledged interactive exhibit taking the form of a maze (designed by Minotaur Mazes) that will be on view for nine months. The maze format serves as an apt metaphor for Mendes’ life which took many twists and turns. At certain points in the maze, visitors will have to make choices that simulate decisions that Mendes made. Thanks to the efforts of researcher Joseph Abel, who has been working with us on the project for the past few months, we have been able to immerse ourselves in his life by exploring a treasure trove of letters written by Mendes housed at the Maryland Historical Society that provide meticulous accounts of his journeys to Europe and the Middle East (Mendes was the first American citizen to receive official permission from the Ottomans to visit Palestine). Through Joseph’s analysis of these letters as well as of documents housed in other archives, he has uncovered some wonderful new insight into the difficulties of traveling in the 1830s as well as new information about the places he visited during his journey.

The resulting research has led us in a new path. Our latest concept for the exhibit focuses on the search for identity and tasks visitors to explore the many different ways that Mendes defined himself through his family relationships, religious observance, professional obligations, and search for adventure through travels. At a recent meeting with our exhibit designer, Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes, we were delighted by how he captured the essence of this concept through interpretive panel designs and interactive activities. We all left the meeting feeling enthusiastic about our plans for The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen and are continuing to research new sources and explore new avenues for bringing Mendes’ incredible story to life. We look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress and hope you will join us to discover Mendes for yourself when we open the exhibit in September 2014.

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JMM Insights, December 2013

Posted on December 20th, 2013 by

Top JMM News Stories of 2013

 In this month’s JMM Insight we look back at 2013.  The staff was invited to nominate their favorite stories of the last twelve months.  Our countdown for 2013 includes many events you will remember and perhaps a few that will still be “news” to you.

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12. Genealogy Society Renews its Links

After disbanding several years ago, the JMM welcomed the news of the reorganization of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland. With a large membership of individuals passionate about family history, the JMM looks forward to partnering with the JGSM in the year ahead as we work together to make even more of our genealogical sources accessible to the public.

 

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11. Wonder Woman Sells Out

Move over Batman.  The top selling superhero product in the Museum Store during the run of Zap, Pow, Bam was the Wonder Woman tote bag.  Esther had to re-order these twice – eventually selling 120 bags.  It was part of a banner year for store revenue, over $6000 in the last six months.

 

photo by Will Kirk

10. AAM Conferees Discover JMM

In May Baltimore became the center of the museum world as our city was inundated with Museum professionals from across the country (and even the globe) who arrived for the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums. The JMM was thrilled to be among a select group of local institutions invited to serve as an evening reception site for conferees and even more so by the response of our colleagues to the joint event – Heroes: Real and Imagined – that we threw in partnership with the Lewis Museum. Attendees had a wonderful time schmoozing as they toured our exhibits and synagogues (Zap! Pow! Bam! was a huge hit), created superhero masks and sampled hero sandwiches and specialty cocktails.

 

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9.  Volunteer Launches Outreach to the Visually Impaired

Docent Robyn Hughes launched several important initiatives this past year to advance JMM’s accessibility. Robyn had the brilliant idea to create a twin vision comic book (a book that incorporates Braille text overlaid on the print) that was displayed in Zap! Pow! Bam! She then invited members of our community with visual impairments to visit and enjoy the JMM through tours that emphasized touch and verbal description. But this was only the beginning for Robyn, who also created another twin vision books out of the JMM’s Synagogue Speaks! children’s book and worked to develop a partnership with the Maryland School for the Blind. Robyn has served as a wonderful ambassador on behalf of the JMM and we appreciate her continuing efforts to promote the JMM to this important constituency.

 

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8. New York Times Finds Nostalgia in Baltimore

In April, Jennifer Moses made the Jewish Museum of Maryland and her historic family ties to B’nai Israel a part of a feature story in the travel section of the New York Times.  The article was circulated across Baltimore by New York relatives with notes that said “did you see this?” Ever since April, visitors have mentioned this article, when asked “where did you hear about JMM?”  However, “word-of-mouth” continues to top our list of referrals, so keep talking about us!

 

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7. “1861 Tour” Offers New View of Lloyd Street Synagogue

How can a one hundred seventy year old building become a “new” attraction?  With the opening of Passages Through the Fire:  Jews and the Civil War we started to offer our first daily specialty tours at the Lloyd Street Synagogue.  The tours immerse visitors in the early struggles of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and they recreate Baltimore rabbis’ debate over slavery.  They also encourage a second look at some of the details of the synagogue (e.g. the tzedakah box built into the pillar), that might otherwise go unnoticed.

 

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6. IMLS Lends a Healing Hand

We received a big boost for our big project this September.  The Institute for Museum and Library Services awarded a competitive $150,000 grant for our fall 2015 exhibit on Jews and medicine.  This was quickly followed by a lead gift from the Herbert Bearman Foundation for The Herbert Bearman Foundation Presents:  Jews, Health and Healing.  Significant support for the project also came in from LifeBridge Health, Johns Hopkins University and CareFirst.  We are still seeking additional partners for this groundbreaking exploration of the intersection between Jewish culture and the healing sciences.

 

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5. Clark Kent Finally Gets a Bar Mitzvah Party

A super boy became a man at our summer celebration of this important milestone in Clark Kent’s life. The festivities included a visit by Superman who danced the hora with guests, enjoyed sampling a hero-sized cake, and because no Bar Mitzvah celebration would be complete without this tradition, participated in a candle lighting ceremony honoring the special people in his life.

 

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4. “You Gave Me Back My Grandmother”

Beloved Baltimore doyenne and caterer extraordinaire, Bessie Bluefeld was brought to life as the newest member of our Leo V. Berger Immigrant’s Trunk roster. Thanks to the combined talents of script writer Jonathon Scott Fuqua, director and producer Harriet Lynn, and actor Terry Nicholetti, we were able to create a performance that explored many of the dramatic moments in Bessie’s life from her arrival in Baltimore as a new bride fresh off the boat from Russia, to her determination to save the family from financial ruin after a bad business deal. At the performance premiere we were delighted to welcome members of the Bluefeld family and received perhaps the highest form of praise from one of her grandsons who thanked us for introducing us to the grandmother he never knew.

 

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3. City Springs Students Get to Know Us

JMM educational programs have a long history of providing high quality enrichment services for students of all backgrounds and from all over the state. So it seemed only natural to reach out to the school that is quite literally in our own backyard, City Springs Elementary and Middle School. After many conversations and meetings with school administrators and teachers, we created a series of tours and programs designed to accommodate each grade and were thrilled to welcome every student from the school this fall. Our goal is to develop a partnership with both students and teachers so that they view the JMM as their museum, a place to return to with family and friends.

 

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2. JMM Walk-In Visits Run Way Ahead

We will end 2013 with at least a 1/3 increase in overall visitors, but the gain in “walk-in” visitors is truly impressive.  A “walk-in” visit is our technical designation for what many of us would call a “family visit”.  It consists of one or more individuals who come to the museum just to see the museum – not part of a group, or a school or a special tour or program.  In the first eight months of the year, “walk-in” visits at JMM were up 140% over the prior year.  We attribute this rather dramatic change to: a) expanded hours, b) improved marketing (including some of our first radio and tv ads), and c) compelling exhibits and programs.  With four special projects in 2014 – Civil War, Mah Jongg, Electrified Pickle (Tech Fair)and the A-Mazing Mendes Cohen (Maze Exhibit) – we intend to keep up the momentum

 

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1. It’s Official:  We’re Accredited AGAIN

We’ve held off making the formal announcement until this newsletter… but we are overjoyed to share the news that the American Alliance of Museums has (re)accredited the Jewish Museum of Maryland for another ten years.  There are just three museums in Baltimore to be awarded accreditation by the Alliance (The Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Museum and us).  In making the award the Accreditation Commission stated in part “…the museum continues to meet National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums and remains a member of the community of institutions that have chosen to hold themselves publicly accountable to excellence.  Through a rigorous process of self-assessment and review by its peers, the museum has shown itself to be a good steward of the resources held in public trust and committed to a philosophy of continual institutional growth.”

 

Here’s to our “continual institutional growth” in 2014, L’chaim and Happy New Year.

 

 

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Dear Abby 1.5

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by

Dear Abby is at it again!

 

Dear Abby,

My dear friend, “S” has put himself into a bit of a pickle. He has a reputation for being a know-it-all, and now he’s made an ill-advised bet with his archenemy (let’s just call him “M”) that he knows everything about the Jewish Museum of Maryland. He even wagered his prized violin! There’s only one problem: “S” has never been to the JMM! Obviously, he needs to visit the museum as soon as possible. When is the soonest that he can go on a tour? Do your tours cover the whole museum? Another potential problem is that “S” has lived a long, full live, and his knees just aren’t what they used to be, so he is not comfortable using stairs—even with railings. Will this be a problem?

Signed,

Dr. W. 

Dear Dr. W.,

Sherlock_Silhouette

A wager is very serious business, so I will try to do everything I can to help your friend learn what he needs to know in order to keep his violin! First of all, we offer five tours a day, Sunday through Thursday, so there are plenty of opportunities for “S” to go on a tour. These tours go out at 11:00am, 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm, and 4:00pm. I would recommend that he come for the tours earlier than 3:00pm because the 3:00pm tour talks more about the Civil War than about the history of the synagogues, and the 4:00pm tour is abbreviated because we have to close up the synagogues at 4:30pm. For future reference, you can always find our tour schedule on our website, here: http://jewishmuseummd.org/visiting/.

The tours do not cover the entire museum. They only cover the two synagogues—Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel Synagogue. The exhibits inside the museum, and in the basement of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, are all self-guided.

Unfortunately, while the main museum building is handicap accessible, both synagogues require our visitors to climb a lot of stairs, and because they are historic buildings, it’s very difficult to install ramps or elevators that still comply with the historic trust’s rules. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll have a solution to the problem of ensuring access while preserving the historic character of these buildings, but for the time being, we’re stuck with what we’ve got.

Generally, I assume that each visitor knows his or her own abilities best, but if “S” is uncomfortable with stairs, even when they have railings (as ours do), then he will not be able to see the sanctuaries of the synagogues…in person. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t go on a tour! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we have a DVD version of the synagogues tour that we can set up in as little as five minutes! If “S” asks for it at the front desk, we will have him set up in no time at all.

Yours Truly,

Abby

 

abby krolik copyHave a question of your own for Abby? Click HERE to email her! Make sure to put “Dear Abby” in the subject line! 

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