Posted on April 8th, 2016 by Rachel
Creating a welcoming museum environment that takes into account visitor needs is an important ongoing goal at the JMM. Whether this means developing exhibition educational resources for school group visitors or offering programs designed to facilitate conversation among visitors of different religious or cultural backgrounds, we take pride in our ability to serve diverse audiences. Providing access for visitors with physical disabilities has always been a Museum priority and in recent months, our staff has taken steps to improve our services in this area.
Recognizing the need to consider the entire spectrum of accessibility issues, this past October, we hired Ingrid Kanics of Kanics Inclusive Design Services to conduct an accessibility audit of the JMM’s public spaces including both of our historic synagogues, galleries, restrooms and library. As part of her survey, she measured door openings, made use of a wheelchair to navigate spaces and considered all aspects of the visitor experience.
Ingrid then drafted a report with recommendations that she shared with Museum staff. We were pleased to note that our Museum facility scored high in many areas. Having recently added a push button option to open our front doors provides easier access for visitors with limited mobility. Many of Ingrid’s recommendations related to signage and our staff has already produced larger signs to help visitors identify public restrooms. At her suggestion, we have created a checklist of items for our visitor services staff to check on a regular basis to ensure, for example, that the mechanical doors are functioning properly and that doors and hallways are kept clear of debris that can pose tripping hazards. Other improvements, based on Ingrid’s recommendations, are slated soon for implementation and include adding covers to drain pipes underneath restroom sinks to avoid burn risks for individuals in wheelchairs and smoothing out the transition strips between the lobby and coat room/restroom area to make for easier navigation for wheelchair users.
Thanks to the contributions of docent, Robyn Hughes, for several years, the JMM has worked to improve our services for visitors who are blind or visually impaired. Robyn helps us create Braille text for flyers, exhibition text and programs (we have both Braille and large print exhibition text for Beyond Chicken Soup available at our front desk) as well as create tours and programs designed specifically for visitors with visual impairments including camp groups from the Maryland School for the Blind who regularly visit.
Large Print Brochure
A priority for this coming year is to improve services for visitors who are deaf or have hearing impairments. While we currently make sure that all exhibit videos are captioned and hire sign language interpreters upon request, we do not currently have the ability to offer accommodations for visitors at public programs who have difficulty hearing speakers or presentations. Our staff recently met with representatives from a company that manufacturers assisted listening devices and learned about how this system can improve sound in our orientation space for program participants. We intend on purchasing a system in the upcoming year that would enable visitors to borrow a receiver from the front desk with an over the ear headphone that would amplify sound in our lobby. The same system could also be used by visitors participating in guided tours of our historic synagogues.
The biggest challenge we face for visitors with physical disabilities is the lack of an easy solution for gaining access to our historic synagogues. Many years ago we created a video tour of the synagogues that is available for visitors to view in our lobby as a programmatic equivalent for those unable to climb the buildings’ stairs. We have also started to video simulcast programs that take place in the Lloyd Street Synagogue for visitors to watch in our orientation space. Of course, we recognize that these steps are not enough, and we are exploring different ways for creating access through ramps and possibly an elevator. B’nai Israel is in the process of adding a chair lift to aid congregants (and Museum visitors) in gaining access to its main sanctuary. And we remain committed to continuing to investigate potential solutions for improving accessibility to the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
Posted on March 11th, 2016 by Rachel
Three years, eight months and twelve days (but who’s counting?)
This week marks the culmination of a major JMM initiative, the opening of Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. The exhibition was conceived soon after the arrival of our (then) new executive director, Marvin Pinkert, in June 2012. As we brainstormed ideas for a new exhibit, one idea stood out from the others tossed around, an exploration of Jewish connections to medicine. However, it was clear from the beginning that we were not just looking to create a hall of fame-style exhibit honoring the Jewish heroes of medicine but rather to flesh out an answer to the question that gets asked so often “Just what is it about Jews and medicine?”
Sneak a peek…
As is so often the case with exhibition planning, defining the exhibition concept (along with the title) took a while. From “My Son the Doctor” to “Foreign Bodies” to “Jews, Health and Healing” and finally “Beyond Chicken Soup” our discussions began focusing on the dual notions of how medicine has influenced Jewish identity and conversely how Jewish culture, tradition and religion has impacted the field of medicine.
As we settled on our overarching concept, work on the exhibit intensified on all fronts. Our team of research assistants, interns, volunteers and scholars researched the topic from a wide variety of sources and perspectives. Time spent conducting oral history interviews with local medical practitioners as well as digging through archives at medical research institutes and libraries – including our own collections – proved valuable. Concurrently, we also conducted focus groups and visitor surveys to determine what topics would be of most interest to museum visitors. As we began working with exhibit designer Steve Feldman and media producer Rick Pedolsky, of Amuze Interactives, the exhibit took on a new life, and we began visualizing what it would look like in the Feldman Gallery.
…at our newest exhibit…
With a companion catalog, website, educational curriculum and public program series, Beyond Chicken Soup has been a highly collaborative project that has involved the entire JMM staff as well as an army of consultants and volunteers.
Here’s a look at Beyond Chicken Soup by the numbers:
*Number of lenders to the exhibit: 70
*Number of objects on display: 225
*Farthest distance of travel for loaned objects: Israel (manuscripts collected by Dr. Harry Friedenwald from the National Library of Israel)
*Largest object on display: the back end of a 1970s ambulance (lights flashing!)
*Number of scholar consultants: 4
*Amount of money raised: $824,000
*Number of donors: 27
*Number of project interns: 10
*Number of focus group conversations: 30
*Number of people on the installation crew: 14
*Feet of walls built in the interior of the gallery: 242
…and don’t miss opening weekend!
But the best number we can think of for this exhibit is one! Just one more day before you can experience what we’ve been working on for the last three years.
Can’t wait to see you!
Posted on January 15th, 2016 by Rachel
Though we’ll be saying goodbye to Paul Simon this month, we’re also saying hello to two new staff members!
Tucker joins the JMM this month as the new manager of
the JMM shop Esther’s Place. Tucker brings to the JMM extensive experience in museum retail establishments. In fact, Esther’s Place makes the fifth (!) museum store Tucker has managed, and his tenth retail establishment. A member of the Museum Store Association, Tucker has served as a consultant for other small Museum shops. Even more fortunate for us, all of that experience and expertise comes with a great sense of humor and a cheerful disposition!
Michael replaces our longtime custodian, Darrell Monteagudo, who recently retired. We are most grateful to Darrell for his many years of dedicated service to the JMM, for keeping our facilities clean and well organized and we wish him all the best with his future plans.
The Museum building and the historic synagogues have an able caretaker in our new custodian. Mike brings a decade and half of cleaning and maintenance experience to the Museum. He has experience both in keeping spaces hospital-clean (Kennedy Krieger Institute) as well as the demands of the hospitality industry (Suburban Club). His can-do, problem-solving attitude is already improving things at JMM: in his two weeks with us so far, he’s found new and better ways to organize and schedule our maintenance needs.
Stop by the Museum soon and help us make Tucker and Mike feel welcome!