CAJM Conference Wrap Up

Posted on March 30th, 2011 by

Professional development is a valued activity at the JMM. Staff members are encouraged to attend lectures, workshops, and conferences. The benefits of learning new skills from experts in the field help us grow in our jobs as we gather information and resources that we bring back with us. Furthermore, these programs often provide opportunities to network with colleagues from institutions – large and small – from across the country and to learn about interesting and innovative programs taking place at other museums. While the benefits of these kinds of programs are obviously, it can sometimes be challenging figuring out a strategy for implementing what you have learned as it is so easy for the materials you gathered and notes you’ve taken to get buried as you return to the piles of work, phone messages, and emails that accumulate while you are away from your desk. Recently, I had the chance to attend Our Stories, Our Museums: New Chapters For Jewish Culture, the annual conference of the Council of American Jewish Museums along with several of my colleagues.

The conference took place at the recently opened National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia where nearly 200 professionals from Jewish museums from across the country (as well as from Europe) gathered for three intensive days of lectures, panel discussions, visits to museums, and networking. I left the conference feeling inspired by the amazing work going on at Jewish museums across the country and excited by the many model programs that I learned about.

NMAJH Core Exhibition

The tote bag that I received from the conference was filled with legal pads with notes scribbled furiously upon them from the sessions that I attended as well as resource materials distributed by session speakers, not to mention program brochures picked up from other museums. The bag sat untouched under my desk for a couple of weeks. Finally, I started going through materials and sat down to review my notes.

The bag in question, chock full of informational goodies!

One of the difficult decisions you often have to make at conferences is deciding which program to attend as multiple sessions are scheduled simultaneously. Do you attend the session with a panel comprised of several renowned museum professional sharing their collective wisdom from many years in the field or the session devoted to fundraising 101 complete with practical hands-on ideas? Go to workshop geared to my specific responsibilities at the JMM or a panel discussion on interesting topics about the museum field in general. Fortunately, as I went through my notes, I realized that because several other JMM staff members attend the conference and had the foresight to “divide and conquer” each of us had attended different sessions so we could share what we had learned with the larger group. We all decided to meet one day over lunch to compare notes and resources from the sessions that we had attended. This proved to be a wonderful strategy for reviewing session content and to continue brainstorming how we might collectively implement some of the ideas gathered at the conference.

Just a few of the many materials and notepads from the conference.

Of particular interest to our group was a session that I attended devoted to the topic, Turning Stories Into History: Transforming the Narrative Through Oral History and Digital Storytelling. Three speakers – representing three different Jewish museums (from New York, Connecticut, and Denver) discussed three very different techniques for incorporating oral history interviews and personal stories into exhibitions, films, and other programs. One of the speakers, Deanne Kapnik from the Mizel Museum in Denver, spoke about a new museum initiative, the Community Narratives Project, a collection of digital stories gathered from a broad cross section of Denver’s Jewish community that have become a key feature of a new permanent exhibit, 4,000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks. (To learn more about this program, visit the Museum’s website.) This initiative resonated with our staff, as we have been working to develop creative ideas for how to develop new programs that integrate storytelling and oral history interviews for audiences of all backgrounds. This is definitely a program that we intend to learn more about as we move forward with our plans.

While many museums have been forced to cut back on professional development activities out of economic necessity, I am proud to work for an institution where professional development is still considered a priority. The benefits for both the staff attending as well as the institution are many – learning best practices from other professionals, gathering resources for programming and exhibit development, and meeting and networking with colleagues from other institutions.

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JMM at CAJM (that’s a lot of acronyms!)

Posted on March 4th, 2011 by

The Museum was fairly quiet this week due to the CAJM conference. CAJM (Council for American Jewish Museums) was in Philadelphia this year, and many of us took the opportunity to attend for one or more days. This year was especially significant for those of us at the JMM, because our fabulous colleague Deborah Cardin the Museum’s Education Director co-chaired the event! This was the second CAJM conference I have attended, and although I only attended one day of it, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and really took a lot away from my experience.

The theme of the 2011 conference was Our Stories, Our Museums: New Chapters for Jewish Culture. Not only did I attend two interesting panel discussions, including one led by our Director Avi Decter called Big Ideas in Small Shows, and another called Let Our Voices Be Heard, which looked at the role of museums in democratic life. Both workshops provided much food for thought. In addition, conference goers had the opportunity to be among the first visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new Chagall exhibition – a great treat!

The National Museum of American Jewish Heritage, which housed the conference this year.

In my free time, I had an opportunity to explore the new National Museum of Jewish History. Despite my envy at their enormous and spectacular space, I was able to appreciate what is a wonderful and comprehensive museum of the 350 years of Jewish life in America.  Deborah, Ilene (JMM Program Director) were roomies – maybe the best part! Ilene and I also fit in a movie – Black Swan. I loved it and I was completely convinced that Natalie Portman deserved her Oscar. Pretty much everyone at my house is too scared to see horror movies, so thank you Ilene for seeing it with me!


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The Jewish Museum of Maryland Visits the National Museum of American Jewish History!

Posted on February 28th, 2011 by

I was asked to set up a visit to the brand new National Museum of American Jewish History on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall this past Sunday for members of the JMM’s Board of Trustees. Sunday coincided with the opening day of the annual conference of the Council of American Jewish Museums, which the NMAJH hosted, so the trustees had an opportunity not only to see the new museum, but also to attend the opening plenary session of the conference. No problem, I said to myself, this will be a breeze to do . . . but I quickly found out that one detail led to another, led to another, and so on.

Boarding the bus to Philadelphia

Our Bus Trippers relaxed on the drive, enjoying bagels, juices, and chatting with one another. When we arrived in Philadelphia, we were all ready for our visit to the NMAJH.

The NMAJH building was imposing, sitting right on the mall at 5th and Market Streets. Our bus driver found the entrance and we were welcomed by a representative of the museum.  We had plenty of time to check out the highlights of the exhibitions in the museum; although there was no way that we could see everything on the four floors in the few hours we were there. Everyone gave it their best shot, knowing that we would have to make a return visit.  You know of course, that I made a bee line for their Museum Store and browsed and chatted with the Museum Store Manager to my heart’s content. It is quite a store and well worth visiting!

A view inside the bus - look at all those excited travelers!

Trustees also attended the Plenary session of CAJM which they found very interesting, Following that, they had time to check out more exhibitions, and do a bit of shopping.  Our bus returned promptly at 4:00 PM to take us back to Baltimore, arriving at 6:00 PM.  Again, nourishment was provided, crunchy apples, dark chocolates and chocolate chip cookies were on the menu. If nothing else, we ate well.

The gang's all here!

Everyone had a great time, it was an opportunity to meet and greet in a relaxed way. We all agreed that the NMAJH is an amazing museum and we encourage you to make the trip to Philadelphia to check it out!

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