CAJM 2016 Next Narratives: The Stories We Tell
The Council of American Jewish Museums' most recent national conference took place in New York City from March 20-22, 2016. The program, Next Narratives: The Stories We Tell, explored the themes and narratives of our institutions and our imaginations. Outstanding cultural and communal leaders – combined with the extraordinary resources of New York City – helped illuminate the relevance, meanings, shifts and uses of stories in our museums.
Because many North American Jewish museums were founded at the end of the 20th century, they share common threads and impulses that define a collective storyline: attachments to ancestral homelands; exile and persecution; migration and acculturation; cultural distinctiveness; and contributions to the larger society. While these themes remain central in many ways, Jewish museums are also looking for new stories, including ones associated with evolving and emerging communities, overlooked constituents, and complicated subjects. Balancing the conceptual, the strategic, and the practical, Next Narratives consider how stories can be used to embrace diversity, engage new audiences and stakeholders, and inform Jewish museums’ changing role.
The conference program included workshops on oral history and on digital technologies; a panel of representatives from international museums offering perspectives on how Jewish-museum storytelling changes dramatically from place to place; a discussion of "Audacious Hospitality" and how Jewish museums may deploy it; a "Speed Meet"; field trips to NYC destinations; Talking Circle conversational groups; fellowship and mentorshp programs; an “Unconference” session, at which conference participants brought to the surface key questions and concerns not covered with the formal program; and a reception at The Jewish Museum featuring artist Maira Kalman.
Dozens of leading thinkers, practitioners, scholars, communal professionals, and creative artists posed novel questions, stimulated deep thought, and encouraged the development of new experiments in Jewish museums.
Among the participants:
- April Baskin, President, Jewish Multicultural Network and Schusterman Insight Fellow
- Lila Corwin Berman, Ph.D., Director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Temple University and Author of Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity
- Ellen Frankel, Ph.D. Author, Librettist, Storyteller, and former Editor of the Jewish Publication Society
- Warren Hoffman, Ph.D., Associate Director of Community Programming, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Author of The Passing Game: Queering Jewish American Culture
- Maira Kalman, artist, author, and illustrator, together with her son, Alex Kalman
- Rebecca Lehrer, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of; "The Mash-Up Americans"
- Vanessa Ochs, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia and Author of Inventing Jewish Ritual
- Annie Polland, Ph.D., Vice President, Programs and Education, Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Co-Author of City of Promises
- Rona Sheramy, Ph.D., Executive Director, Association for Jewish Studies
Gravity Goldberg (Associate Director of Programs at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, left) and independent consultant Colin A. Weil (right) are this year's Program Co-Chairs, overseeing conference themes and planning.