JMM Insights: Dear Abby

Posted on March 21st, 2014 by

Dear Abby,

I’m very excited to hear that the JMM will be opening a new exhibit all about my favorite game: Mah Jongg! I’m actually from Boston, but I have a sister-in-law in Baltimore, so I’ve heard about your museum, and I’ve been curious about it for awhile. This spring seems like the perfect time to finally make a visit, and I’d like to bring some of my girlfriends with me.

My girlfriends and I are in an unusual kind of “mahj” group: we do destination Mah Jongg! This means that we like to play in special locations. For example, last Mother’s Day we ditched the hubbies and played Mah Jongg for 48 straight hours in Las Vegas. It was such a thrill! If you can imagine it, it was kind of like one of those big poker tournaments that they have on TV, but with kosher food and better gossip.

Anyway, I hear from my sister-in-law that, in addition to seeing the exhibit, you can also reserve a few tables to play Mah Jongg at the museum itself. That would be perfect for our next destination! What do I have to do make a reservation? Does it cost anything?

I look forward to hearing from you, and to fleecing my friends of all their quarters in a rousing game at the JMM!

Sincerely,

“Mahj” from Boston

Dear “Mahj”,

Wow, that’s quite a group you’ve got! Yes, it is true that we will have about six card tables set up in our Orientation Space that groups can reserve for 2 hour time slots. You should talk to me either by phone or email about bringing your group in to see the exhibit and playing a game or two of Mahj. There is no extra fee for reserving a table to play, so you will only have to pay $5 per person if you are bringing a group of 10 or more during our public hours.

If you wanted to bring your group here after our public hours, then the charge will be $40 per hour that we have to stay open past our usual hours. This fee simply covers our costs associated with staying open.

During the exhibit’s time here (March 30 to June 29), there will be some occasions when we will not take any reservations. Some of these are on days when we have all-day public programs that will need to use the Orientation Space (for example, a Mah Jongg Marathon—keep your eyes peeled for more news on that soon!). Other times will include the hours when we have a scheduled speaker. If you’re thinking of coming in to play on a Sunday, just know that the best times for which to sign up are at 11am or 3pm, since our speakers are usually on Sundays at 1pm.

While the tables in the Orientation Space are not for impromptu games of Mah Jongg, there will be one table inside the exhibit itself that will be set up for impromptu playing or “playing” for anyone who wants to just move the tiles around. For these tables, we ask that you write your name on the sign-up form inside the exhibit and limit your playing to about 30 minutes if people are waiting for a chance to play.

I hope that answered all of your questions. Can’t wait to see your group at the JMM!

Best Wishes,

Abby 

You won't want to miss the opening of this great exhibit!

You won’t want to miss the opening of this great exhibit!

Dear Abby,

I am writing a novel that is a semiautobiographical-mystery-thriller family saga stretching from the turn of the 20th century to the 1980’s, set in Baltimore. I would like to do some research both about what life was like in those decades, as well as some research into my own family history. In starting the research for this book, I’ve come across a few family skeletons, including the mystery of the location of the body of my Great-Aunt Fannie, who was shunned by her family for not serving crab at her son’s bar mitzvah! Can you imagine—not a crab cake or even a coddy in sight? Since the whole family refused to attend her funeral, there’s no one left who can remember where she was buried. I know that the JMM has a lot of this kind of information in their archives, so can I stop by sometime to do my research? Is there a research fee? I think I’m a member of the museum, but honestly, I can’t remember.

Thank you for your help!

Signed,

The Future Laura Lippman

 

Dear Future Laura Lippman,

Not to be a grouch, but I’m afraid we need to insist that on-site research can only be done here by appointment, and we need a few weeks of lead time to arrange it. We have a very small staff, with all of us wearing several hats, which means that we need a little extra time to complete research requests.

Let me first suggest that if you’re looking for something specific in our collections or trying to find where your Great-Aunt Fannie is buried, the first place to stop is our online collections database! If you go to our website (www.jewishmuseummd.org) and go to the “Collections & Research” section, you’ll find many resources, including a link to search through our collections and archives. In the Family History section, we even have downloadable spreadsheets for all of the Jewish cemeteries in Baltimore, so you can find where your ancestors were buried.

If you want more help, you will want to call our designated research phone extension at (410) 732-6400 x213 or email research@jewishmuseummd.org--or, if it’s a genealogy question you have, you can call this extension, (410) 732 6400 x224, or email familyhistory@jewishmuseummd.org–to submit your contact information and research question. A staff member will get in touch with you to make an appointment.  Depending on demand, this may take a few weeks.

If you are a member, then you can do research here for free! For non-members, it’s $8 per visit, and for non-member students it’s $8 per project (so you can visit multiple times and pay only once). This fee also includes admission to the museum, for when you feel like taking a break and wandering through the galleries.

I can’t wait to read your book when it’s finished!

Sincerely,

Abby

 

Dear Abby,

I’ve been a member of the JMM for many, many years, but lately, I’ve become a real katzisher kop, and I’m afraid that I will forget to bring my membership card with me the next time I come to visit the museum. If I do forget, will I still be able to get free admission? More importantly, will I still get my 10% discount at your fabulous gift shop? Next week, my cousin is visiting, and I plan on bringing him down to see your latest exhibit, and the fear of forgetting all of these important things is keeping me up at night! Speaking of which, should I use one of my guest passes for my cousin, or is he included in my family membership?

Thanks!

Sincerely,

I. Forget

 

Dear “Forget”,

I’m sorry to hear that your forgetfulness is keeping you from getting your beauty sleep! Well, you can rest easy now, because there’s no reason that forgetting to bring your card should keep you from enjoying your membership benefits. When you arrive at the museum, simply tell the person at the front desk your first and last name, and they will confirm your membership status for you by looking at our list of current members. You can also do this if you can’t remember whether or not you’ve renewed your membership for the coming year.

Family memberships cover up to six members within a single household, so unless your cousin lives with you (and it sounds like he does not), then he is not included in the family membership. That being said, this is the perfect time to use one of your guest passes!  But please do remember to bring the guest pass with you when you bring your guest (perhaps put it in your bag or pants pocket the night before). Your cousin will have to fill out the back of the guest pass with his information before handing it to the front-desk person.

We’ll see you soon!

Abby

 

Dear Abby,

I’m planning a program for my sisterhood, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding a good speaker for the group! They’re an intellectually curious bunch, so I want to provide a speaker who will really pique their interest. Someone told me a long time ago that you offer a Speakers Bureau, but I think I’ve also heard that you no longer offer that Speakers Bureau. Which is true? Can you help me find a speaker?

Thank you for your help!

Sincerely,

“Desperate in Columbia’

 

Dear “Desperate in Columbia’,

It is true that we used to have a Speakers Bureau, in which we charged organizations a fee to have a talk delivered by a member of our research or curatorial team.  We no longer do that. We have so many exciting projects ahead that we need our creative team to keep its focus on programs and exhibitions.

On the other hand, we are happy to talk to groups about our exhibits! If you have a sizable group (25 or more people), consider inviting our director, Marvin Pinkert to come speak.  Schedule permitting, Marvin is happy to talk about the latest topics in our featured exhibit at JMM. For example, in honor of our quickly approaching new exhibit, Project Mah Jongg, Marvin has developed a fascinating talk on the history of Jews and games—as both players and creators—that stretches back to the days of the Bible! Unlike our Speakers Bureau, these talks are free of charge.

If such a talk sounds like a good fit for your event, you can talk to me (akrolik@jewishmuseummd.org) about scheduling him to come talk to your group.

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

 

Dear Abby,

My parents are finally downsizing from the home they’ve lived in for 40-odd years to a condo, and my siblings and I have been helping them sort through what we think they should keep and what they should give away or throw out. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff there is in their attic! The condo is pretty small, so they can’t keep much, but a lot of it is in pretty good condition, so we feel bad throwing it away. Could I bring down all this stuff to donate it to the museum?

Sincerely,

Child of Hoarders

 

Dear “Child of Hoarders,”

It depends on what kind of “stuff” you’re talking about. If it’s a sewing machine, then probably not —we’ve got six already! It also depends on where this attic is located. Is this attic in Maryland, or does it belong to someone who lives or lived for a significant period of time in Maryland? We only collect objects that pertain to Jewish life in Maryland, so if your parents lived all their lives in Virginia, then I’m afraid we won’t be interested in their belongings. However, if these objects are directly related to people who live or lived in Maryland, then we might possibly be interested in adding them to our collections.

But please don’t just drop it on our doorstep!

First, you should call our Collections Manager, Jobi Zink, and ask her if she thinks we’ll want it for our collection, and she will tell you what to do next. If she thinks that we might be interested in your parents’ things, then she will present the objects to our Collections Committee, which decides which new objects the museum will accession.

Best Wishes,

Abby

 

abby krolik copyDear Abby is written by our Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




JMM Insights: February 2014

Posted on February 21st, 2014 by

When life leaves you in a pickle…  make a battery???

Pickle_logo4Last fall, Marvin asked the staff to think about different scenarios for the Feldman Gallery once Project Mah Jongg leaves the JMM at the end of June 2014.  The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen would not be finished until September and it did not seem like a good idea to leave an empty gallery for nearly three months.   We’ve been enjoying a steady increase in the Museum’s attendance and we did not want to lose momentum.  What could the JMM do in that space that would be fun, inexpensive and engage visitors during the summer months? During our brainstorming session, we discussed the increasing emphasis on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and we came up with the idea of hosting a Technology Fair.  Our staff liked the idea that innovation and creativity would once again be highlighted in historic Jonestown, where many immigrants got their start as innovators on Lombard Street and the surrounding neighborhood.

I have to be honest.  Initially, I was a bit skeptical about the idea. I am not a “science person” and I remember struggling through my physical and natural science classes at university.  I am not a MAVEN about anything technological and Marvin asked me to spearhead this project!   I am pleased to say that what has happened over the past few months has been magical, informative and lots of fun.  We have been meeting people from throughout our community who are passionate about technology and science, and are excited about involving many people in project planning.

What has evolved from our initial brainstorming sessions has become a unique visitor experience. The Electrified Pickle is designed to appeal to budding scientists, DIY-ers and anyone curious to learn about how things work and Jewish innovations in the fields of arts and science.  With the help from our partner, The National Electronics Museum in Linthicum, MD, our Feldman Gallery will be transformed into a participatory lab-style environment. Visitors can discover the mystery behind scientific principles such as magnetism, electricity, solar power, and other fun and engaging interactive activities. The gallery will serve as a community gathering space where people can come to experiment, create, and learn from one another.

For five Sundays (beginning July 13), we will invite community members to come to the Museum and share their expertise and passion for specific fields such as engineering, crafts, robotics, electronics, and architecture with our visitors. Each Sunday will have a specific theme. Our kick-off  on Sunday, July 13th is Power This! with a wide range of activities and demonstrations related to batteries and electricity. Other Sunday themes are: Fly This!, Imagine This! Decode This! and Print This!  We will offer exciting hands-on demonstrations and workshops for people to try their hand at activities like robot building, 3D print imagery, barcoding with POS (point of sale) software and, of course, electrifying pickles (visitors can test which kinds of pickles – sour,  dill, sweet work best!)

The Feldman Gallery will  also include objects from our own  JMM collections, examples of technologies from the past that were vital to Jewish trades and home life but are no longer in use such as old sewing machines, kitchen implements, typewriters, and phonographs.  These items will be displayed in a way that visitors can make comparisons with newer technologies and gain insight into the process involved in scientific innovation.  The gallery experience will also include a community art project, in collaboration with a local artist that will evolve throughout the summer with the help of visitor engagement.

Be on the look- out for the cutest, little green gherkin complete with electrical adaptors letting you know that The Electrified Pickle is coming soon!

ileneThis month’s JMM Insights was written by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon.

 

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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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