Mapping Constellations

Posted on May 31st, 2019 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.


One of the many things at which Marvin excels is finding connections others might miss. You might say that he sees constellations where others see a jumble of stars. With a confession that I am not as skilled at constellation-spotting as he, I thought I’d share some connections I noticed while I was in New Orleans for the annual conference of the American Alliance of Museums.

On my first day in the city, I visited the Cabildo and the Presbytère, two neighboring Louisiana State Museums on Jackson Square. Even as I walked those halls–more than 1100 miles from Lloyd Street–still I has one foot in the JMM.

In the Cabildo’s exhibit Mapping the Crescent, featuring maps of New Orleans displayed chronologically, I envisioned the opening of our Voices of Lombard Street and wondered what kind of story we might tell with a chronological display of maps of Baltimore.

In We Love You New Orleans, I realized, again, that I have truly become a museum professional, as I gawked at the beautiful costumes and, remembering our own Fashion Statement currently in the Feldman Gallery, wondered if the lights were too high for their well-being.

At the Presbytère, as I explored the darkened warren that is Living with Hurricanes: Katrina & Beyond, I was moved by the recollections and the material culture left behind (and devastated by) a natural disaster I remember happening. But I was truly arrested by the case containing Jewish religious objects, including a tallit, shofar, electric menorah and Torah cover. (The Torah scroll itself was rendered pasul (unfit for ritual use) by the 8 feet of water the synagogue endured, and it was buried according to custom.)

Perhaps most surprising in the New Orleans museums, though, was this illustration of an astrologer costume, designed for a Mardi Gras krewe in 1932. As we prep for our future presentation of Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit (coming in May 2020), the stereotypically Jewish features of this stargazer were a bright line in my mind constellation connecting the crescent city and charm city.

In the conference sessions themselves, the connections were perhaps less surprising:

In one of the keynote addresses, the speaker noted that 97% of Americans believe museums are educational assets for their communities, which made me think of our upcoming Jonestown festival and the way so many museums are coming together to be assets to our community.

In a session that promised 75 ideas about membership and fundraising in 60 minutes, not only did I get a lot of great ideas and reminders to bring home with me, I shared with the room about our recent campaign to bring you members in to the Museum (yes, you!) by offering you a free gift, but only when you actually came into the building.

In a session about culturally-specific museums, I learned about the International African American Museum, soon to be open in Charleston, SC. Chief curator Joy Bivens shared that the IAAM is envisioning a Center for Family History, where visitors will be able to do genealogical research using guidance from the Museum and their collections. I heard an echo of some of our own current and aspirational services to the community.

In a panel about the importance of branding, the conversation led me to jot down some notes about what it is that we do: We use Jewish stories to nurture empathy, champion human dignity, and inspire action in Maryland and beyond.

There were more, but I think I’ll leave it here: Nurturing empathy, championing human dignity, and inspiring action. That’s a constellation I can really get behind.

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