Jewish Museum Milwaukee: Let’s Talk

By: Patti Sherman-Cisler, Executive Director
Wow!  I have just completed my first year at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee and the time has flown by…..So many wonderful people…, staff, board, volunteers, visitors, donors and other new friends have made my transition a joy.  As I reflect on the last year a few key themes keep reoccurring in my thoughts and I thought I would share them with you.

Conversations start here.  As staff, board and community volunteers brainstormed what the JMM tagline should be we kept coming back to the realization that the museum excels at taking Jewish history and making it relevant to a myriad of constituents by finding key threads, themes and stories to investigate, contemplate and expand upon.  As I thought even further about the tagline, I realized…this is why I wanted to work at JMM!  It is a place where intellectual curiosity and exploration are encouraged, where stories of the past lend themselves to lessons for today and where diversity of experiences and opinions find a home.

This past year JMM explored many timely and relevant themes through its exhibits, programs, and ensuing discussions. Topics included the
politics of Argentina, the entrance ways for minorities and women into the social fabric of the United States, the use of propaganda to sway public opinion then and now, the power of political cartoons, and much, much more.  Over 2000 school children visited JMM this past year.  They learned about immigration, community and beliefs, intolerance, and Israel.  Some were Jewish, most were not. All of them came away with a new found knowledge.

Your personal story is JMM’s history.  Important stories are told through the donations to the JMM archives and curated by the museum. The story of the Strnad family is probably the most well-known personal story that the museum has had the privilege to tell.  For those who don’t know it, Paul Strnad wrote to his cousin Alvin in Milwaukee seeking asylum for he and his wife Hedy, a talented dress designer from Prague during the Nazi occupation.  The Strnads did not survive the Holocaust, but Hedy’s dress designs did.  As a testament to Hedy, and as a reminder of all the talent lost, JMM with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s costume shop created her elegant designs and with it a sobering reminder of the consequences of what should never have been and what must not ever happen again. JMM began travelling Stitching History From the Holocaust this past year.  It opened in New York City in April and travels on to Madison, WI in September and Miami Beach in January.

There are hundreds of other stories the museum tells.  A high school classmate of mine called not long after I had started to tell me his grandparents were in a largescale photo in the making a living section of the permanent exhibit and showed me them in his next visit.  A good friend toured the museum for the first time this year, turned a corner and was surprised to see her life size father as a youngster in his basketball uniform! Countless visitors have pointed out their family and friends in graduation, bar and bat mitzvah, and wedding photos.  Locally gifted artifacts tell the important stories of immigration, the Holocaust, intolerance, Tikkun Olam, community and beliefs and so much more. Your memories tell stories for future generations.

Boundless enthusiasm creates amazing results. JMM staff LOVE their jobs and tackle big projects with gusto. The temporary exhibit schedule ensures there is always something to learn and contemplate at JMM.  From Chasing Dreams: Baseball & Becoming American, to the Jews of Argentina – from Arthur Szyk the Art of Illumination to the current Project Mah Jongg exhibit there is always something that will spark your imagination or urge you to learn more. Staff works diligently to make sure the quality of the exhibits and the 40+ annual programs offer the public an opportunity learn, grow and appreciate.
The Museum also planned and executed a Plein Air event with its Milwaukee Museum Mile partners, held Milwaukee Museum Mile day, opened its doors to hundreds for Open Doors Milwaukee, held a fabulous opening tailgate party in the back parking lot, is offering Mah Jongg play, lessons and a tournament this summer, toured over 2000 school children, held monthly programs for people with memory loss, and well…. whew!

JMM plays well with others-The museum is a place of real collaboration and believes in the power of partnerships.  This year the museum partnered with the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center for a program on the Eichmann trial, a program on propaganda in art, and providing educational content to over 1500 childrenThe partnership with the Milwaukee Repertory for Stitching History resulted in a History in Progress award from the American Association for State and Local History and the Governor’s Archive Award. JMM’s partner MPTV Arts page won an Emmy for it video on the making of Stitching History.  The Education department has meaningful partnerships with SHARP literacy, Arts@Large and other groups. JMM is also an active member of the Milwaukee Museum Mile and the Council of American Jewish Museums

This is a community of caring individuals. This is a caring community that supports the museum in so many ways.  There are 650 loyal members, 20 exceptional docents, 27 involved board members, dozens of committed community volunteers who work in the archives and on exhibit/programming committees, talented interns, 3 dozen legacy participants, an amazing staff and loyal donors and foundations.  Through their generosity of time, talent and funds they ensure that the museum is a place open to all and encourages important, relevant conversations to happen.

The museum has a lot of exciting exhibits and programs in store for the coming year.  After Project Mah Jong, Once & Again, Still Lifes with Beth Lipman opens in September.  Sheboygan-Falls artist Beth Lipman is nationally recognized for her glass sculptures that recreate the bounty of Renaissance and Baroque still-life paintings offers a modern perspective on timeless issues like mortality, consumerism, materiality, and temporality. JMM plans a celebration of greater Milwaukee talent, a tour of “makers”, an exploration of Lipman’s work and more.

Fabric of Survival opens in February of 2017.  Holocaust survivor Esther Nisenthal Krinitz used art and personal narrative to recognize individual courage and resilience, and to foster understanding and compassion for those who experience injustice.  Her 30 hauntingly beautiful original fabric compositions detail her life before, during and after World War II. Related programing will engage audiences in conversations about injustice, memory, and the power of art.

The summer of 2017 is still being planned.  But I can say if you know and love Milwaukee, have an affectionate penchant for the quirkiness of humankind, and appreciate artistic talent, this will be an exhibit you will want to explore with friends and family.

Bringing three to four special exhibits, upkeep of the permanent exhibit implementing, over 40 programs per year and preservation of the archives is not only exhilarating and a joy, but expensive.  Each temporary exhibit is subsidized through fundraising efforts so that prices for admission, school tours and programs are affordable for all.  So, please, if you value the conversations and programs at JMM and can help keep the museum affordable to all a gift of any amount is welcome.

As any good executive director would do….
here is the link.

Thank you for a wonderful and satisfying first year at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.  Here’s to you and to the next year!

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Jewish Museum Milwaukee