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Small, but Mighty – SMA Conference 2020

Posted on February 27th, 2020 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


Some people spend their birthday celebrating with friends, having a nice dinner, or taking a trip. This year, I celebrated by attending the Small Museum Association Conference 2020, which took place in College Park, Maryland. And it was a wonderful birthday event! I attended lots of informative and interesting sessions and met many lovely people who are dedicated to their missions of learning, preserving, sharing, and making change in the world. Most inspirational to me was the sense of spirit the conference created, of all these folks coming together, and finding tangible techniques and lessons that they can take back to their sites, no matter how many staff, resources, or how much money they have available. All the people at this conference want to make their site or sites more accessible to guests, more inspiring, and find new ways to connect to their wider communities.

This all sounded very familiar to me, as we’re working to do the same thing here at JMM. Hearing others talk through their challenges, and problem-solve together, made me feel like I have chosen the right path professionally. I now have a new network of people to reach out to, when I need help solving my own problems at work. I hope to visit at least a few of the historical and educational sites represented by the other conference attendees, over the course of this year.

In the meantime, I’m still bursting with information and reviewing my notes from the conference. While I share this newfound inspiration with everyone at the Museum, I wanted to take this blog post to share some of the highlights of my time there.

As we shared in a social media post, the College Park Aviation Museum was generous enough to host the SMA Conference reception.

The conference really took off at the reception Sunday night.

The SMA Board President welcomed us to the conference and to the Aviation Museum, and we had a great time chatting with other and looking around. Though the Aviation Museum is a small museum, they have some amazing historic aircraft, which made for great photo opportunities. If you’re ever in College Park, I highly encourage a visit to the museum, which includes the grounds of the world’s oldest continuously operating airport.

Another highlight of the conference was the Monday night banquet, which I attended as a scholarship winner. Following the theme of the conference, “Honoring the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage: Museums as Catalysts of Social Change,” people were encouraged to dress in 20’s-style clothing. These outfits ranged from flapper dresses to suffragette costumes, complete with signs declaring women’s right to vote.

Anyone wearing a costume could assemble for the annual costume contest! I’m going to make sure to bring my best finery next time.

The banquet was another opportunity to schmooze with fellow museum professionals, and I learned a lot about sites in New Jersey, New York City, and in Virginia, along with Maryland historical sites and museums. I’m incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to attend as a scholarship winner, especially since all the winners got to know each other and we often sat near each other as solo attendees. The most amazing part of the banquet though was dessert.

Dessert was amazing as it looks!

Beyond the events and networking, the most important takeaway for me was the conversations around accessibility. The presenters who focused on this topic made the goal of creating accessible programs, exhibits, and experiences seem more attainable. The presenters provided a range of solutions, large and small, and emphasized why it’s so important to make our sites accessible, beyond the ADA requirements.

Multi-sensory mapping refers to looking at an exhibit space and figuring out where sensory experiences take place, such as light, sound, crowds, space, and more.

Every person who presented about accessibility mentioned that creating accessibility resources with just one group in mind, can help everyone who visits a site. Even if we’re thinking about a person in a wheelchair moving easily through a space, we’re also helping people who don’t like to feel crowded. Providing information through audio media helps those who are blind or have low vision, but also makes a more immersive experience. Having a quiet room to rest during a museum visit isn’t just important for those who can get overwhelmed with sensory experiences. It also helps the average visitor who just wants to sit before they explore the rest of the museum.

I’m most excited to find ways to help the visitors I meet every day to have a more enhanced and immersive experience. I hope that by doing so, they can better learn our stories, explore our history, and imagine a better future.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Being Welcoming is Much More than Saying Hello

Posted on January 24th, 2020 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

Museums are always my favorite places to visit. Wherever I travel, they’re one of the go-to attractions I look up ahead of time when I plan my trip. Growing up, my parents took my brother and I on regular trips to different kinds of museums and similar educational institutions, which make up some of my favorite childhood memories. I recall playing with water features in COSI, or the Center of Science and Industry in Ohio, wandering the halls at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even climbing to the top of a giant elephant that used to serve as a hotel in New Jersey.

Lucy the Elephant. Photo by Jack Boucher, Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: Historic American Buildings Survey.

Having the opportunity to visit these places, and parents who had the means to provide and actively encouraged creative learning, helped shape who I am today. For me, these institutions have shown me new ways to experience culture, science, and history, and have widened my world view.

However, not everyone feels welcome at museums. This happens for a lot of reasons. The space may not be fully accessible for a person with limited mobility. The signs may be written in a language that isn’t native to a guest. Someone may get overwhelmed by sensory-heavy elements in an exhibit, such as noise or videos. The stories in a museum may not reflect a person’s identity, making them feel left out.

Regardless of the reason, I see it as my personal responsibility to try and make JMM as welcoming to as many people as possible. Working as the Visitor Services Coordinator, I’ve learned a lot about our current audience and their needs, and I’m researching new ways to accommodate even more people at our site. This work of inclusion is an on-going project that will never be finished, but as I think about this next year at JMM, I plan to make it my priority, and I know it’s a priority of the Museum staff, as we work to connect people to Jewish experiences and Marlyland’s Jewish community to its roots.

It’s a daunting goal, to make the Museum even more inclusive and welcoming, but I find inspiration from Pirkei Avot, a Jewish text that is generally referred to as “the ethics of the fathers”. There’s a famous line of wisdom that says, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” Throughout my life as a Jewish person, I’ve come back to that line as a guide, especially as I tried to find my purpose as an adult. It’s led me to the work I do today, even at the Museum, and I wanted to share some of that work with you.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the Museum has acquired Assistive Listening Devices or ALDs to use on guided tours. These devices allow a docent to transmit their voice and those on the tour can speak through them as well. The ALDs are a useful tool for people with hearing loss or who are Hard-of-Hearing, but they can be used by anyone. They make it easy for our docents to speak to a large group of people and are great for people who want to wander our exhibits while still listening to the guide. It’s been rewarding hearing the feedback from our guests and our docents, about how the devices are helping to enhance their tours.

Our devices are available to use on any of our public tours and for all our adult group visits.

Learning is a big part of becoming a more accessible site. Paige Woodhouse, our School Program Coordinator, found a webinar through the American Association for State and Local History, or AASLH, called “Increasing Accessibility and Inclusion at Community Organizations”. We’ve only completed the first of the two-part webinar, but it led to Paige and I discussing how we can make it easier for neurodiverse people to visit the Museum, such as people with autism spectrum disorders. Some resources we’ve seen at other institutions are sensory bags which are kits filled with different tools such as fidget toys and noise-cancelling headphones. A family can check this back out at the front desk, to use during their visit to help a child who may be sensitive to sounds or needs a distraction while waiting in line. Another resource is social stories, which are documents that give helpful information about visiting, wait times, loud spaces or quiet spaces.

These bags can be made independently or are given out as part of programs such as through Kulture City’s Sensory Inclusive program. Photo courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum/Rutgers University.

We hope to create similar resources at the Museum soon, which we’ll announce as we add them. We also want to create a language directory of our docents, to better provide tours to people for whom English is a second language, and we’re continuing our work with Keshet to provide more inclusion to the LGBTQ+ and Jewish community. Of course, there’s always room for improvement as learn more about our audiences and new tools that are being created every day. If you ever have a suggestion that would improve your visit to the Museum, please reach out to me at or (443) 873-5164.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Listening Better, Hearing More: Assisted Listening Devices at the Jewish Museum of Maryland

Posted on November 25th, 2019 by

From Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky. To read more posts from Talia, click here.

If you’re an avid museum goer you’ve probably encountered something similar. A small device that hangs around the neck with headphones attached. Maybe you type a number and a narration plays, explaining a painting. It might have helped enhance a live program. A tour guide might have used it to amplify their voice to the group of people following them. Many cultural sites have some kind of device to help their guests to hear the content they’re trying to communicate.

The Jewish Museum is pleased to announce that we have similar devices as well! Our assistive listening devices, or ALDs will transmit a leader’s voice to anyone wearing a corresponding device. This can be used on our public tours, during private group tours of the neighborhood, or even in public programs. We know that one challenge of our current lecture space is the way noise resonates, and we want to make all of our Museum programs more accessible. That’s why we’re happy to share this announcement and give you some information about how these devices work.

It’s fun to try out new technology!

These devices are designed to support people with hearing loss or who are hard-of-hearing. However, they can be used by any guest who chooses to wear the device and headphones. Using the devices on a tour enhances a visitor’s focus, allows the docent to speak without yelling, and makes it easier for a group leader to communicate when there’s other guests around.

During a tour, the docent will wear the leader unit, which will communicate through the guests’ devices. The units use a mobile connection, instead of radio channels, so a tour would not be interrupted by any local communication. The devices also allow guests to hear the tour guide over ambient noise, such as cars when we do neighborhood walking tours.

These devices work great with a large group. We can accommodate up to 30 people at one time!

Our units come with over-the-ear headphones that have built in microphones. This way guests can not only hear the leader as they give a tour, but by pressing a button, can ask questions that the whole group can hear. In addition, the units are compatible with most current headphones and earbuds, so guests can choose to use their own for comfort. Just make sure you ask the docent how to speak into the device microphone when you have any questions!

These devices allow groups to have great discussions while on tour.

Along with enhancing our tour experience, these devices will be available for reservation at our public programs soon. By connecting directly to our A/V system, guests will be able to hear the lecture or presentation more clearly, even with our regular lobby echo. Our Program staff are currently setting up all the equipment and will announce they will be available for reservation soon. If you want more information about how the devices will with public programs, contact Laura Grant, our Program Assistant. You can reach her at (443) 873-5169 or

We hope that these devices will support more of our guests engaging in our stories. Our program and education staff, as well as our volunteers, have been working hard to master this new technology to make it available to you.

Our docents have dedicated their time to learn the devices in order to provide them to our guests.

If you’re interested in using these devices during a public tour, simply contact me, the Visitor Services Coordinator at (443) 873-5164 or I can reserve these devices, as well as help you book a group visit. If you have any additional questions about the units or about our accessibility, please reach out. This is just one step to help make the Museum more inclusive and more accessible, and we’re always looking to improve our visitors’ experience.

I’m so pleased to find new ways to increase our accessibility. Please reach out if there are other ways I can help you share our stories!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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