Travel Tuesday: The Interns Do DC!

Posted on July 16th, 2019 by

For this week’s #TravelTuesday post, we’re putting #TravelingWithGrace on hold to share some reflections from our summer interns. Last Friday they went on their DC Day field trip, exploring a variety of museums on the national mall. We asked them to share their thoughts here.


~From Intern Elana

Last Friday, the other interns and I had the opportunity to visit various museums of the Smithsonian. Personally, I started with the Freer/Sackler Museum and went to the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) afterwards. I had been to the Freer/Sackler before, so I am not going to touch on that museum here.

(Though I did get some great photos of my “flat friend,” Steven, there.)

This past Friday was my first visit to the NMAI and it was an amazing experience. I started with the cafeteria, as it was lunchtime, and was able to try some Native American food, or something relatively close to that. Then, some of the other interns and I went on a gallery tour with one of the museum educators. Our guide was part of the Indigenous community and from a fairly local tribe. I really enjoyed his tour. He was able to relay the facts of the exhibition while inserting his own personal opinions and experiences as a part of the Native American community. After this tour, I explored two of the museum’s other exhibitions, “Americans” and “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire.”

I had an amazing experience at the NMAI and had some takeaways that could apply to my future museum career and my future museum visits.

The NMAI took such care in allowing the voices of Native people to shine through in every aspect of the museum, from the architecture of the building to the food served at the cafeteria to the tour guide who told his own story. As I continue in my museum career, I hope to share voices and stories as carefully and effectively as this museum has. In addition, I learned to value tours in a way I hadn’t before. I am typically not one to take a tour and though this tour, I realized that tours aren’t necessarily some random volunteer relaying facts, but that they can provide more personal insight to an exhibition. I was able to experience the exhibit in a completely different and insightful way that added to my experience.


~From Intern Megan

During the intern field trip to Washington D.C., I got the opportunity to visit a couple Smithsonian museums. This opportunity was very exciting for me because even though I live close to the district, I do not visit the city a lot. I decided at the beginning that Instead of rushing to visit a lot of museums I wanted to take the time to really look in depth at two different ones.

The first museum I visited was the Freer Gallery of Art. I looked at a few different exhibits and took the time to really process the details of the art; something I have not really done before. My favorite two exhibits were the Japanese art exhibit and the Buddha exhibit.

One piece in the Japanese art exhibit really caught my eye.

It had a very big, white canvas and the only two things on it were two women sitting in a boat on one side and some birds in the sky on the other. Overall, it was a very simplistic piece of work and I enjoyed its minimalist style; it showed that not everything that is beautiful must be complex/there is beauty in simplicity. At the same time, it was still able to portray traditional Japanese clothing that the women were wearing.

The second museum I visited was the Hirschhorn museum and sculpture garden. This museum had a lot more eccentric art which was enjoyable to walk through.

One of my favorite pieces from this museum was a painting of a person who appeared to be made out of gum or a similar substance and was stretching their face to the left and right with their hands.

I liked it not just for its uniqueness but also because the person being portrayed is not explicitly showing any emotion, leaving the audience to interpret the emotions that they want after looking at it. The artist left it up to the viewer to decide how they want to understand the piece even without knowing anything about the artist’s intentions.

Overall, the trip allowed me to take my time in the exhibits I visited and pay attention to each piece. I found that, in relation to interning at JMM, I also looked more in depth at the layout of each exhibit and wrote down some positives and negatives of the different types of setups. This is important to analyze because when creating an exhibit, it can be make-or-break how easily/effectively people are able to walk through and see everything.


~Intern Hannah

I was very excited to embark on our DC Day field trip, as I had not been to the Mall in Washington DC since a family vacation when I was in middle school. I was very excited to see some of the Smithsonian Museums there and told myself that I would try to hit as many as I could in our nearly six hour trip, where we were let loose to find our own way. I was able to go to three, which I think is pretty good, but gives me room for improvement.

At first, all the interns stuck together. We went to the Freer Museum, where we saw their exhibit called Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent. This was a beautiful exhibit focusing on beauty standards in the Indian Subcontinent, and especially how it related to their Gods. The center of this exhibit was the thirty-two body marks, called Lakshanas that make a Buddha. These marks range from long fingers and smooth and golden skin, to “jaw like a lion’s” and arms that extend below the knees. It was interesting to compare this exhibit, which was very focused on physicality, to one of the exhibits present at the JMM, Fashion Statement. Fashion Statement emphasizes the personal clothing choices that we make and asks each viewer to think about what their clothes and personal expression mean to them. I think that the Body Image exhibit leans more towards examining societies expectations of us and our bodies. Personal expression is a response to societies expectations, whether that is in the form of conforming or non-conforming, there must be something to set as a hegemony. The euro-centric standard of beauty that we hold to be true and right in Western culture is new and flawed. The beauty standard shown in this exhibit is old and true for many people. It was really refreshing to be surrounded with yes, perhaps fictional representations of the human body, but ones that felt so real and were round and robust.

“Flat Friend” Dimitri Visits the Freer.

I spent some more time walking around the Freer’s other exhibits before heading over to the National Museum of Natural History by myself to watch a tarantula feeding. I grew up deeply invested in zoos, living fifteen minutes away from the Bronx Zoo and attending summer ‘Zoo Camp’ there for many summers. Zoos and animals have a very important place in my heart so it felt very grounding to be in that space. I have visited the Natural History Museum in New York many times and I love it. It was very beautiful to stand in a circle and watch a volunteer feed this tarantula a cricket, surrounded by people of all ages, including kids, teenagers, college students, and adults. It was really cool to see how another museum, much different than the JMM, does educational programming. I then wandered around the insect area of the museum before venturing downstairs to look at all the fossils and skeletons, which is my favorite part of any natural history museum. I only spent about half an hour in the National Museum of Natural History, but I had a great time.

Dimitri at the Tarantula Feeding. He is scared of spiders, but put on a brave face.

After a nice iced coffee on the Mall, I joined interns Ariella and Elana for lunch at the café at the National Museum of the American Indian. I do not have a picture of my lunch, but let me tell you, it was delicious. The café at the NMAI features native and native-inspired recipes. We all had their version of tacos, which was fried bread topped with veggie chili and some fixing’s, which was absolutely delicious. The three of us then took a tour of the museum. The tour was really fascinating, led by a docent who is Native American himself and gave us his own views and opinions on certain topics brought up in the exhibit. It was a greatly beautiful museum, with unique architecture and layout. There were also a lot of digital interactives in the exhibits, which was very cool to see and interact with. My favorite parts of the museum were its main exhibit, Nation to Nation, which covered different treaties and agreements that the United States Government has made (and broken) with Native American Nations, and Americans, which discussed representation of Native Americans in mainstream American pop-culture, from Land-O-Lakes Butter to Pocahontas. After about an hour and a half of exploring the museum by ourselves, we met back up with the rest of the group to head home.

Dimitri and I enjoying an iced coffee and people watching in-between museums.

It was a really great day, and I had the opportunity to explore museums I had not been to before. I connected with art from around the world, my childhood, and the history of the land that we stand on. It was a very powerful day in Washington, and I hope to return to the National Mall soon to finish my journey in seeing as many museums as possible.


~From Intern Ariella

Last Friday, we had an intern trip to DC. We had the freedom to check out any museum that we wanted, with two conditions. One: we had to consider questions designed to make us think about the museums we visited compared with JMM. Two: we were given new monster friends and had to document their experiences during the day.

Coming at the day from that perspective made me visit the museums with a new perspective. Two of the institutions really stood out to me: one that I’d never seen before, and one that I’d just visited a few weeks before.

The first museum I saw was the Freer|Sackler Institute of Art. Both display the Smithsonian’s collection of Asian art and are connected underground. I’ve never paid much attention to Asian art, so I decided that this was a good time to really look at some for the first time.

At the Freer|Sackler, I was most intrigued by two exhibits. Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, designed by James McNeill Whistler, is an entire room that doubles as an art piece. Golden peacocks are painted on the dark green walls, and blue and white porcelain lines the shelves. The colors don’t seem like they should match each other — technically, they don’t — but the combination is mesmerizing regardless.

Kombucha, wide-eyed and mesmerized, in The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art.

The second exhibit I loved at the Freer|Sackler was Encountering the Buddha: Art and Practice across Asia. The gallery is set up with statues depicting the Buddha, but the main draw is the other qualities of the exhibit. The walls are deep purple, creating a calming atmosphere. Two smaller rooms off the exhibit lead to extended experiences: the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, and a three-screened video depicting a day of Sri Lankan practice at the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa.

Both The Peacock Room and the Buddha exhibit showed me the power of creating an immersive space. Visitors literally step into Peacock and can sit down at a wooden table in the center of the room and observe for as long as they want. The room is silent, except for the sound of the security guard and visitors talking.

Encountering the Buddha, on the other hand, is louder. Recorded chants boom out from the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room, and it’s audible from the second one enters the room. The videos of Sri Lanka have music as well, and visitors can sit on comfy couches to watch. Both exhibits succeed because they allow viewers to become as much a part of the exhibit as they can.

After leaving the Freer|Sackler, I decided to get some lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). I’d already seen NMAI, but liked the museum so much that I was happy to return. Plus, I hadn’t previously eaten at Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, the museum restaurant.

Grabbing lunch at Mitsitam wasn’t meant to be a learning experience, but I’m glad that it turned out that way. The other interns and I got the Indian Taco, a delicious combination of fry bread, veggie chili, and classic taco toppings. I loved the meal but had no idea where it originated from. Mitsitam, which is set up buffet style, didn’t explain which foods came from where.

A quick search on the NMAI website showed us what the physical space did not explain: the Indian Taco was inspired by the Great Plains cultures. It made the experience that much more immersive to know where the food we were eating had come from. I just wish that NMAI had made it more distinct from the actual lunchroom itself. They could have followed the Freer|Sackler example of fully including visitors into the experience by explaining how they were a part of the museum displays.


And because interns shouldn’t be the only ones having fun, Joanna and I also tagged along and enjoyed our own “DC Day”! We started at the Museum of Natural History, where Joanna shared with me some of the highlights from their new fossil installation, the Deep Time ExhibitionBeing an old school dinosaur nerd, I was in heaven! But possibly my absolute favorite, surprising moment was discovering the mini-display by the bathrooms – all about poop!

(Fossilized poop, to be exact.)

After a delicious lunch at the AMNH cafe, Joanna and I headed a little further afield to stop in at the National Portrait Gallery. I was hankering to finally see the Obama portraits in person – and I was not disappointed! We also explored the current exhibit Votes for Women: Portraits of Persistence. The mix of personages highlighted in the exhibit was fascinating, and I really appreciated the attention paid to various schisms in the suffrage moment, particularly those about race.

I didn’t pick up the catalog on this visit, but it’s definitely going on my wish list.

~Intern Wrangler Rachel


 

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Sunday-Funday: Premiering the Winter Teachers Institute

Posted on February 14th, 2019 by

A blog post by Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.


The JMM, Baltimore Jewish Council and Baltimore City Public Schools co-sponsored the first Winter Teachers Institute, a professional development opportunity for area teachers in connection with the exhibit Jewish Refugees and Shanghai.  Teachers signed up to participate in the two-day workshop; and this past Sunday, February 10th,  we all travelled together by bus on a field trip to Washington, DC.

Our first stop was the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the US. Our teachers were invited by the Chinese Embassy to be part of a cultural exchange in connection with the Shanghai exhibit on loan from the Shanghai Refugees Museum. The embassy building is designed by the Chinese architect, I.M. Pei and features a fusion of the traditional philosophies of Chinese architecture and modernity.

We were met by Secretary Feng Haonan and his colleague who graciously led the teachers throughout the building which includes an East and West wing, beautiful gardens and large meeting rooms.

We loved gathering around the very large conference table.

The teachers enjoyed learning about the impressive art installations throughout the building that fuse together ancient Chinese art and modern Chinese culture.  The vibrant colors and designs made each artwork so unique and intricate.  Each work was created with such intention.

Our guide shows us a piece called Scholars from Thousands of Years.

The wall-sized piece in this photo is Birds Singing in a Jade Bamboo Forest, 2007.

Many teachers commented on what a unique experience the visit was, and each teacher was given a gift bag at the end of tour filled with books and tokens to remember the visit.

Our next stop was to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We wanted to provide our teachers with some background information in connection to WWII, and the rise of Nazism in Europe.  We also wanted the teachers to see the exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust, as this topic would be the starting point for our second day of the workshop that will take place this coming Sunday, February 17th.

Our teachers returned to Baltimore invigorated and excited for a second meaningful day of study when our focus will be the exhibit, Jewish Refugees and Shanghai and issues of contemporary refugees face in our world today. We are looking forward to another Sunday-Funday!

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Graham Goes to Washington!

Posted on May 30th, 2016 by

Over the past few days, I (along with most of the staff at the JMM), attended the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) annual conference in DC. This is my third AAM conference and I am always amazed by the scale of the event. Roughly 6,000 museum professionals from around the world attended. Throughout my time at the conference, I sat in on sessions on volunteer management, accessibility, audience engagement, docent training and how to effectively supervise college interns. I also socialized with present and former colleagues and made lots of new contacts in the museum community.

The first session I went on to on Thursday was titled “Embracing the Power of Older Adult Volunteers.”

The first session I went on to on Thursday was titled “Embracing the Power of Older Adult Volunteers.”

As Ilene Cohen, our current volunteer coordinator will be leaving us shortly and I’ll be taking over some of her responsibilities, I thought it would be a good idea to get some tips about how to advocate for our fabulous volunteer corp. At the session, I learned techniques for training older adult volunteers on technology and got some suggestions of places to recruit for new volunteers.

I then went to the MuseumExpo exhibit hall where I browsed through exhibitors relating to audio tours, admissions, educational programs and regional museum associations. I met with a representative from Blackbaud to get some tips about the new Altru ticketing/donor management system which we will be implementing soon at the Museum.

I also tried out a virtual reality station about the Wright Brothers flight and bought two books to help me in my current position.

I also tried out a virtual reality station about the Wright Brothers flight and bought two books to help me in my current position.

I then went to a session called “Museums for All,” which was about an initiative developed by the Institute of Museum of Library Services. This program offers free or reduced admission to museums across the country to low-income families. I discovered that this is a great way to broaden our visitor base, reach out to under-served audiences, and perhaps most importantly, to be socially conscious and inclusive. In the coming weeks, I hope to implement it at the JMM.

In the evening, I went to a Happy Hour from the Museum Education Roundtable and another one sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies program, which I graduated from a few years ago.

In the evening, I went to a Happy Hour from the Museum Education Roundtable and another one sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies program, which I graduated from a few years ago.

On Friday, I went to a session called “60 Great Ideas for Historic Sites and Historic Homes” where I got lots of ideas ranging from improving the visitor experience to forming new partnerships and increasing attendance at special events.

I then went to the General Session where Robert Edsel, author of the Monuments Men, spoke about the legacy of the Monuments Men, the unsung heroes (both men and women), who saved the world’s greatest art and cultural treasures during World War II. He challenged all of us to become advocates for the return of artwork to their rightful owners and reminded us that modern day monuments men and women are still working to safeguard our cultural heritage in war torn-places like Iraq and Syria.

A packed general session!

A packed general session!

In the afternoon, I went to the Marketplace of Ideas “Small Museums Talk Volunteers and Sustainability,” where I got to brainstorm with other volunteer managers about issues that we have been facing at JMM.

On Saturday, I went to a session on “Training 21st century Docents” where I learned the importance of encouraging more participation and discussion into tours and sharing best practices among the docents. I also got ideas such as field trip exchanges to other museums to see how they do their tours and ways to incorporate direct feedback at the end of each tour.

I then had lunch with an intern from a prior position, visited “Crosslines,” a two day exhibit featuring  artists and scholars at the newly restored Arts and Industries Building, and met up with a former boss and mentor.

I concluded my experience with a stop by the Party “Inside the Great American Outdoors” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I felt privileged to be able to explore the museum after-hours with many of my colleagues.

I concluded my experience with a stop by the Party “Inside the Great American Outdoors” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. I felt privileged to be able to explore the museum after-hours with many of my colleagues.

To sum up, I had a jam-packed time at the conference and came away with many takeaways which I hope to implement at the JMM.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

 

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