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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.

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What’s a year in a history museum?

Posted on February 11th, 2020 by

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


I can hardly believe that my one-year anniversary of working at JMM is coming up, on February 19th. This date almost coincides with my birthday as well (the 16th, if anyone wants to send me birthday wishes, hint, hint) so I’ve been reflecting a lot on how the year has gone by. I’ve had a lot of new experiences, both professionally and personally, and I’m grateful to be alive and healthy for another year of marking my path around the sun. In celebration of my first year at JMM, I wanted to share some of the highlights of working here and what I’ve learned as I’ve jumped head-first into the museum world.

One new skill I’m most proud of is my confidence in giving tours. Whether I’m filling in for the public synagogue tour last minute, or I’m welcoming a new group to visit our special exhibit, I’ve had a blast sharing stories with our guests. It’s incredible to realize how much knowledge I’ve gained about the history of Baltimore and the Jewish communities here, about how fashion reflects our identity, and about the US scrap yard industry (something I never thought I would know so well). Being able to internalize the stories of these people and then share them with visitors has been rewarding, as we connect to those that are similar to our own stories or learn from those different from us. I’m excited to learn more, especially about Jews in Space, so that I can continue to serve as a steward and docent of these stories with our guests.

I love showing our guests how they can interact with the exhibits and why we chose the stories featured.

Another highlight of my year has been getting to know all the volunteers who make up such an essential part of the JMM community. I truly appreciate those who help out at the front desk, so that I can run back and forth to the printer, to someone’s office, to the bathroom. The shop volunteers are incredibly helpful, as they work with guests to peruse and shop in Esther’s Place. Our docents hold so much knowledge and are always happy to share that knowledge with me and our visitors. All of our volunteers’ passion for the Museum is obvious in their dedication and the energy they give when they’re serving. I’ve gained a lot of wisdom from our volunteers, and I look forward to another year working, laughing, and problem solving with them.

Last year’s volunteer appreciation event was so much fun! I was so glad to have the opportunity to publicly thank all of the front desk volunteers.

In this next year, I’m most looking forward to growing the visitor resources available at the Museum. As I talked about in my last blog post, I’ve learned a lot this year about the barriers that keep people from getting to the Museum, or that keep people from having an amazing experience. We’ve all been talking a lot about what we can offer guests, as we shift our mission to focus on “exploring history, taking action, and imagining a better future”. I want to find ways to make accessing our mission easier, and to continue to be open to feedback and critique. It’s important I keep myself humble so that I can better understand what a visitor (or non-visitor) needs to experience our stories, and I hope that this year I can implement new resources for JMM guests to access.

We’re looking forward to all the ways our new mission will inform the decisions we make at the Museum.

Finally, I want to especially thank all the people who have made me feel so welcome. The JMM staff are incredible. The creativity of our team is on full display with the new marketing materials they make and the educational programs they come up with. We consistently find or create extraordinary exhibits to display and high-quality programs to offer our guests. Most of all, everyone is supportive and welcoming, lending me a hand when I have a problem or challenging me to grow professionally. I’m so thankful to be a part of this amazing team, and I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for us.


 

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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 tmakowsky@jewishmuseummd.org or (443) 873-5164.


 

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