CAJM 17 log

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CAJM 2017  Transcending Boundaries: Redefining the Museum Experience

CAJM sponsored its annual conference from March 19-21, 2017.  Dozens of outstanding museum professionals, scholars, and journalists contributed to the lively and stimulating discussion during our three days in Boston and Amherst, MA. This summary highlights some of its key themes and ideas. See the Conference Program for further details.

Museums of all kinds are in the business of transformation and transcendence. While their artifacts and storylines often point to a shared past, audiences also count on museums to illuminate, elevate, and reposition materials and stories as heightened experiences. However, today’s museums are often ill-equipped to meet the expectations of the new experience economy.

Temple Israel of BostonVilna ShulMuseum of Fine Arts BostonYiddish Book Center

In an age when Jewish museums are facing great shifts in communities and constituents, audience expectations, and the communication of ideas, museum professionals must prepare themselves to provide information and experiences using different skill sets and mindsets. Our institutions will still be counted upon to preserve and present the best of our shared material culture, but  design, insights, dialog, and experiences offered must also be key aspects of our delivery systems. Museums can no longer simply be the collectors and keepers of our heritage; they must also be dynamic environments and centers for cultural exploration.

For Jewish cultural institutions, the equation at hand includes a look at surrounding community resources. When does a city need a Jewish museum? How do synagogues, art museums, university programs, JCCs, and archives do similar work—and what partnership opportunities exist? Ultimately, what can a Jewish museum do differently, and what should a Jewish museum experience look like in the 21st century?

These were the some of the questions discussed during the 2017 conference in Boston and Amherst, where many of our colleagues and institutions overlap the museum world but prioritize different frameworks: the Jewish Women’s Archive focuses on audio recordings; the Yiddish Book Center surveys and digitizes a disappearing literature; the New Center for Arts and Culture now focuses on programs; and sites such as the Vilna Shul and Mayyim Hayyim focus on a living Judaism. While these organizations are, themselves, also growing and changing, they offer alternate forums for our feedback and new conversations.

Over three days, we discussed challenges, opportunities, and strategies in creating alternate encounters with Jewish culture, to stimulate new thinking for the future of Jewish museums. The conference looked at a wide range of examples and techniques, allowing members to reconsider strategies for their work. We also looked beyond extant examples to consider what the coming decades may hold: the next iterations and the nature of museum experiences we can offer.